Following France’s win against Croatia at the 2018 World Cup on Sunday, The Daily Show host Trevor Noah opened Monday’s taping with a celebratory joke: “Africa won the World Cup!” The South African comedian was, of course, making light of the fact that, though France’s national team consists of French citizens, many are the parents of immigrants — like forward Kylian Mbappé — or immigrants themselves. And many of these players’ families hail not from the European continent, but from Africa. Even so, French soccer fans weren’t too pleased with Noah’s humor.
In fact, the French Ambassador to the United States, Gérard Araud sent a letter to Noah protesting the joke and arguing it “legitimizes the ideology which claims whiteness as the only definition of being French.” Declaring that all of the players were “French citizens,” the ambassador went on to say they were “proud of their country” and that their “rich and various backgrounds… are a reflection of France’s diversity.”
Noah couldn’t resist the chance to respond, so he did during an online-only “Between the Scenes” segment that was uploaded to YouTube and social media. “I’m not trying to be an asshole, but I think it’s more a reflection of France’s colonialism,” Noah joked of Araud’s emphasis on diversity. The host admits he “understands” what the ambassador is saying, and acknowledges the criticism while adding that he “read up on this afterwards.” His conclusion? “Black people all over the world were celebrating the Africanness of the French players,” he said. “Why can’t they be both? Why is that duality afforded to a select group of people?”
The Daily Show host reiterated the point on Twitter. “When I say they’re African, I’m not saying it as a way to exclude them from their Frenchness,” he explained. “I’m saying it to include them in my Africanness.” Thoughtful discussion notwithstanding, the video’s virality eventually put it in front of Araud, who took to Twitter to further drive home his point that Noah’s joke, amazingly, was “the argument of the white supremacist.” Specifically, the ambassador remains unhappy about what he views as the underlying logic of Noah’s quip. “He didn’t refer to a double identity,” he added.
Amazingly, Noah somewhat predicted Araud’s response with a line about far-right racist extremists in the United States. “I understand what the ambassador is saying. I’m not joining the attack,” he said. “We live in a world where nuance is something that is in short supply. So you will find in America for instance, the alt-right saying, ‘That’s what we’ve been saying. They’re not French! But if Trevor says it, it’s not racist. If we say, it’s racist.’ Yeah, I’ll say yeah. You know why? Because I believe context is everything.”