A racially charged joke by late-night comedian Trevor Noah has elicited a strong response from a French ambassador.
"Africa won the World Cup," Noah, who is South African, said this week in response to France's World Cup victory. "I get it, they have to say it's the French team. But look at those guys. You don't get that tan by hanging out in the south of France, my friends."
At least one French official clearly didn't find the liberal late-night host's joke funny. In a lengthy letter directed to Noah posted on the French Embassy's Twitter feed, French Ambassador in Washington, Gérard Araud, slammed him for declaring "an African victory" and thus "denying their Frenchness."
"I watched with great attention your July 17 show, when you spoke of the victory of the French team at the 2018 Fifa World Cup Russia final which took place last Sunday. I heard your words about 'an African victory', nothing could be less true," he wrote. After noting that all but two of them were born in France and underscoring that all of them identified themselves not as African but French, he wrote, "Unlike the United States of America, France does not refer to its citizens based on their race, religion or origin. For us, there is no hyphenated identity, the roots are an individual reality. By calling them an African team, it seems that you are denying their Frenchness."
As Reuters reports, 15 of the 23 men on France's World Cup team "have family origins in Africa ranging from Cameroon to Congo and Mali, although only two of them were born in Africa and moved to France when they were still toddlers."
Noah has since responded. On his show Wednesday, Noah mockingly read Araud's letter in a French accent to the delight of his audience and then defended his statement. Despite having specifically said that "Africa won the World Cup," rather than France, the late-night host insisted that he wasn't denying their "Frenchness" but was simply including them in his own "African-ness."
"When I'm saying 'African' I'm not saying it to exclude them from their Frenchness, I'm saying it to include them in my African-ness," he said. Africans all over the world, he suggested, were celebrating the fact that Africans can become French. "Why can't they be both [African and French]?" he asked, to the applause of his audience.