Sunday, 15 July 2018: 19-year old Kylian Mbappé became the second teenage soccer player, after Pélé in 1958, to score a goal in the FIFA World Cup finals. Alongside, Paul Pogba, Mbappé scored the two goals that cemented France’s victory over Croatia. After five additional minutes, the referee’s final whistle confirmed that with the score line of four goals to Croatia’s two, France were the new reigning champions for the second time in the FIFA World Cup’s history.
What made France’s victory truly remarkable was the fact that France’s national team is truly diverse team. 78.3% of the team’s players are either immigrants or of immigrant descent. One-third of the team is Muslim.
Mbappé is the son of a Cameroonian former professional soccer player and an Algerian former handball player. Pogba, who is also Muslim, has parents who are Guinean immigrants. Only a third of France’s World Cup-winning team has white-European ancestry, and less than a quarter of the players have French ancestry.
With the team’s diversity, it could be argued that diversité (diversity) could be added to the French national slogan liberté, egalité, fraternité (liberty, equality, fraternity). Or is that really the case?
Unfortunately, this is not the case. Following France’s victory, many people have tweeted calling for the French government to eradicate its xenophobic and Islamophobic social policies. With immigrants constituting only 6.8% of France’s population, it is clear that the xenophobic rhetoric which politicians like Marine Le-Pen have espoused during (and between) electoral campaigns are based on powerful nationalistic myths that have positioned white French identity as being under threat.
But what about the terrorist attacks that have plagued France in recent years, you may ask? Well, the reality is a lot more complex than what has been reported in mainstream media.
He said, he said
“You’re not clean
You might deal
All the same with that skin.”
She was, she was
With her books
Left for dead in the streets
The above is a verse from Ibeyi’s song ‘Deathless’ which details singer Lisa-Kaindé Diaz’s wrongful, racially-motivated arrest at the age of sixteen in Paris. Diaz, an Afro-Cuban, discussed how the sing was inspired by a Parisian policeman racially profiled her, asking her questions about whether she used drugs before throwing her bag on the floor.
Upon seeing that her bag had both Tolstoy’s War and Peace and one of Chopin’s musical scores, he released her as she believes that he thought “Oh, she might be intelligent and have something in her head”. Although Diaz was able to immortalise this traumatic experience in song-form, her experience is an everyday experience for a lot of young black and brown French citizens and immigrants who are mostly located in French banlieues (which have largely become racialised urban ghettos).
Although a lot has been written about the bare-life conditions that predominate in France’s coastal Calais camp, life for young immigrants is just as tough in the French capital. Frequent police raids have resulted in young immigrants being spread across what Broomberg in his article Trail of Misery: Following Child Refugees through the Streets of Paris has described as “a web of ramshackle camps, dangerous squats and unsanitary hostels” in France’s capital.
Because of bureaucratic demands that subject minors to the burden of proving their ages, many of Paris’ young immigrants are rendered invisible and are isolated. The article largely discusses the experiences of young black and brown male immigrants in heart-wrenching detail.
I shudder to think about the experiences of young womxn who navigate this cruel system. Is it necessarily the case that their forced invisibility means that they are regarded as immune to gender-based violence? I would love to believe that that is not the case, but I have not found any evidence to prove me wrong.
It is in considering this reality of life in post-imperial (although not post-colonial) France that I have to commend my fellow tweeters for calling on the French government to be more compassionate to their immigrant and Muslim population- unfortunately I have not focussed on the French government’s Islamophobia, but it is a well-documented problem. Alongside my fellow football fans, I was excited that a national football team with a substantial number of African/Afro-descended players won the FIFA World Cup.
Now that the spectacle of the World Cup is over, we have to begin the hard work of fighting for those who do not have the footballing skills to render them desirable, or at the very least acceptable, to the French government.