2018-07-19

 

On racial categories and jokes about the French team



After watching the above video from Trevor Noah, I had to disagree with him and actually be sad about the perpetuation of outdated racial categories. Trevor did take the players' Frenchness away by claiming that Africa (alone) won the World Cup. On a larger point, he really seems to be stuck on viewing everything from the prism of race---which makes sense for someone who grew up in the Apartheid regime. But race, in both Africa and Europe, is much more complex than what he paints. The idea that there is an "African race", as in "African-American" is ultimately a racist category that 19th century Europeans (indeed, including the French) pushed on the African continent and the slaves they brought to the Americas. Genetically, there is more racial diversity in Africa than in all the rest of the World combined. Same for language. It is truly reductive, and in my view racist, to lump all of Africa's diversity into a single race---that is precisely what European racists do. A rejection of that way of thinking is actually closer to the ambassador's point, than Noah's who seems to want to perpetuate the 19th century race dichotomy. BTW, I was born in Africa from people who were born in Africa, and though I am seemingly white, my genes are undoubtedly a combination of many races---a reason for that is partially explained in this BBC video (also shown below). I remember going to Apartheid Johannesburg as a kid and hating how at the airport people from my plane were directed to different lines depending on their external appearance. Trevor Noah's joke about the French World Cup team is, in effect, putting people from the same country in different lines. A better rejection of Apartheid would be to erase those categories altogether.



P.S. I do understand that in some contexts, like the US, the outdated racial categories of the 19th century still play a nefarious role. People who look African are demonstrably still treated worse than European-looking people. Because of that, in the US context, I agree that is still important to debate civil rights with the category of "African-American". But the goal should be to make that category (and other racial ones) less and less relevant towards a citizenship defined on individual freedom and collective commonwealth, as the French at least attempt to do.

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