France’s incredible 4-2 World Cup win over Croatia represents a victory for Africa and immigrants everywhere.
The team’s success is particularly noteworthy because of the way in which anti-immigrant sentiment, especially against migrants with African roots, has shaken French society over the past two decades.
In June, riots erupted in the French city of Nantes, two hours outside of Paris. It was after a young Guinean immigrant was shot and killed after being stopped by the police.
Clashes over police brutality, racial justice and economic opportunity shape debates across Europe and the United States. The main argument is about who deserves the right to be a citizen.
Immigrants with African roots populate all parts of French society. They are concentrated in areas that require hard, at times poorly paid and dangerous labour.
Many of these immigrants and citizens are connected to France and the larger European Union’s colonial past.
France’s World Cup-winning team features no less than 15 players with African roots, including the dynamic 19-year-old forward Kylian Mbappe, who is descended from an Algerian mother and Cameroonian father.
The team’s pan-African make-up goes a long way toward helping the world. This includes European football fans who have chanted ugly racist slogans against black players. The African players can reimagine the most popular sport on the planet and what it means to be a citizen.
France’s at times toxic debate over immigration anticipated America’s contemporary global debate over immigration. It is one that accuses the most vulnerable populations as thieves, rapists and murderers.
The UK’s ‘Brexit’ came in the wake of a xenophobic campaign that smeared immigration as spelling the death of a racially pure British identity. Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson’s red bus springs to mind here.
The racial and ethnic diversity of the French World Cup team offers another, more optimistic, lesson about immigration, globalisation and citizenship.
While the entire team are seen as heroes in France, those of African descent still face discrimination based on the colour of their skin. Countless numbers of African immigrants, including those fleeing war zones, face daunting prospects of entering France for themselves and their families.
As Khaled Beydoun spoke to France in an Instagram post after the French team’s triumph, “Africans and Muslims delivered you a second World Cup, now deliver them justice”.