What France’s world cup win means to us all About racism and why African governments are to blame

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With Rohey Samba

This Khaled Beydoun’s viral tweet on France’s world cup win on Sunday right after the conclusion of the game, stirs into an already boiling stew of mistrust by Africans and Muslims in particular, of the West.
“Dear France, Congratulations on winning the #WorldCup
80% of your team is African, cut out the racism and xenophobia.
50% of your team are Muslims, cut out the Islamophobia.
Africans and Muslims delivered you a second World Cup, now deliver them justice.”
The beef in this shimmering pot of stew is dauntingly the prevalent racism and Islamophobia of the West, which was allowed to swell and overflow by the law professor and author of American Islamophobia: Understanding the Roots & Rise of Fear.

Altogether, his audacious tweet carved the elephant in the room upon the consciences of the Trumpized generation of protectionism and closed borders against the disparate Germany’s Merkle-styled integration policies generating boundless retweets and comments. It also flittingly gives voice to the distantly rational, if not overtly ambitious desire of African writers to tout the struggles of our communities in the West and benefit from the wide audience that Western writers take for granted.

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You see, much of the vices we commit, are out of ignorance. Even though I do not particularly subscribe to the market of emotional outbursts, however justified it may be, I believe just as Beydoun that the moral depravity of the vices, such as he has underscored in his tweet must be dwelt with head-on, not just by the West but by the peoples of the world under the umbrella of our common humanity.
Already, many Africans and Muslims, living in Africa, have perhaps begun to fantasize that the 4-2 victory over Croatia on Sunday will change perceptions and usher in new understanding and sympathy towards issues of immigration and patriotism of peoples of African descent in the West.
How wrong can we be, is a wild understatement…

The French team, which is the most multicultural team in the World Cup with 15 out of 23 players tracing their ancestry, back to Africa, is ‘first and foremost French’ as indeed many people on social media were quick to point out. At least, that is what most of them feel. How they are considered however is a different matter altogether. In fact, Beydoun has been accused variously of using sports to score political points.

 

But is that his real motive?
Essentially Arabs, Jews, Africans, and any race other than the white race, have been regarded with doubt in the Western world for generations, more so those 1st generation blacks or Arabs finding themselves on the shores of these civilized nations. In effect, the layered notions of identity, self-identification and how one is identified are becoming more and more self-evident in the Western world with Trumpism becoming the order of the day.

Let’s face it, we all have a natural affinity for people of our own race, tribe, culture, religion etc. Finding myself in Ghana for a four-year sojourn some time back in 2003, I considered myself a Muslim first before I considered myself a West African. When I traveled to East Africa, I was a West African first. When I went to Europe, the Middle East and Asia, I was a black woman first.

Naturally, in each case I self-identified, my sympathies towards my kind was considerably exaggerated. In Ghana, anything said against Islam was offensive to me. In Ethiopia, I took issue with being called a black woman by yellow people. ‘Are you white?” I sarcastically asked a Fula-lookalike Ethiopian man in Addis Ababa, who was just being naughty. In Korea, whether at Bussan or Seoul, young children and their parents stopped me on the streets to take a photo with a ‘nice black/African woman’. Like really?
The equation of African with black, which was poignantly the subject Edrissa Baldeh’s Opinion on this Tuesday’s The Standard, GID: Fulas deserve respect, is pertinent. On my mother’s side of the family, which is purely Fula of the Firrdu heritage, they are very light-skinned and no less Gambian, and for that matter African, than my dark toned Wolof side.

In much the same way, the red-skinned Arab, or the white-skinned Afrikaan, is equally African!
It therefore does not belie logic that some of our relatives who were born and bred in the West, but who cannot speak any one of our local languages, constantly struggle with issues of identity by virtue of being born black in Western soil.

The struggle to fit in for them is championed by everyday culture, which reflects limitless versions of white men – CEOs, actors, nurses, cleaners, security guards etc. interspersed with the maverick black man once in a while, be he Micheal Jordan, President Obama, Serena Williams etc. And now, Meghan Merkle or should I just say Doria Ragland.

When I got to the Western University of my choice that I was lucky to win a fellowship to, my guide for the first few days till I settled down was a young woman from Belize called Rhea Rogers. Rhea was a very light skin black woman who was very affable with those large bright eyes that just melt your heart.
After we got acquainted, I asked Rhea one day if she was half-caste? Meaning, whether she was mixed race. Rhea’s strong response actually shocked me. Somehow, she has held this personal grudge for ages against black Africans that we Africans sold her ancestors to the White Colonizers at a measly cost to her identity.

Yes, her identity!
For that reason, until I came along, Rhea had no dealings or association with any one of the black Africans that schooled in that University. I know for a fact that if the University had not compelled her to do so, she would have had nothing to do with me in the first place.
So I was astounded when I heard that, and babbled for a fitting response in defense of my ancestors for crimes I did not know they had committed since Rhea was very explicit. What was extraordinary in this whole matter was the sheer resentment in her voice as she stubbornly stuck to her qualms about Africans in general.

I guess white society was not very kind to her mulatto skin after all! Ironically, that anger she held against that racism was directed towards my ancestors and yours of course. At least that kind of consistency made her grief less threatening to her well being perhaps.
Distinctly, just before the French team’s world cup victory in 1998, the far right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen infamously criticized some of the non-native French players such as Zinedine Zidane, claiming that many were, “foreigners who were not singing the national anthem before matches.”

This might have been just a funny property of colour judgment, for many football players, whether due to nerves or stress, fail to sing their national anthems world over, but it buttresses the issue of racism and leads me to its recent context in the ball game.
First of all, I must admit that I am not a football fan, preferring the fast pace, style and rhythm of basketball.

 

I can’t believe that I am even writing about football, which I consider to be the most overrated game in the world!
Ultimately, I wouldn’t care less if Japan or Brazil won the World Cup, even though I really wished Senegal would go far, especially after their victory against Poland. Just for the punk and over rated reviews we were certain to be accosted with every day for the rest of the year on Senegalese televisions, which are most-watched by Gambians. Or maybe by virtue of the fact that I am Wollof, which is Senegal’s national language, I am naturally inclined to support them…???
But trust the Grands for leaving everything for the soothsayers to decide.

 

Personally, I think they should all be prosecuted for Senegal’s loss against Japan because without the false hope of a win, that they predicted, the Senegalese team would have been better prepared mentally to defeat the Japanese. But that’s just by the way…
For me, the sheer number of Africans and black men in the French team simply reinforces stereotypes about black people being good only for sports. The physicality aspect of black people and its attribution to their predisposition for sports, which has been bemoaned through the decades heralding numerous scripts on the matter, is what was brought to bear once again by France’s World Cup win.

I am reminded by the controversy surrounding lead actor, Denzel Washington who refuses to kiss white women in his movies out of respect to black women. When prodded in an interview as to whether he was racist, he wryly explained that black women were hardly ever casted as objects of desire and love in movies…
This of course speaks to a culture, which tokenizes certain black people, who manage to excel against all odds and caricature the rest. But what happens to the rest of us?
Khaled Beydoun’s viral tweet cleverly made good on the prevalent issues of our times overlooking the implications of his words. That one or two black men are marked as heroes does not rub off on the rest of the black race, as indeed time and time again, including recent history, has shown otherwise. The same is true for Muslim men and women.

 

Changing the West’s perception about race relations, superiority complexes etc. will take more than a generational rewiring of their brains. Not when they continue to use schoolboy tactics at that superficial diversity they project, where you are European only when you are able to meet a certain expectation or popular standard, like the France’s Spiderman and so on.
Moreover, it will take Africans and Muslims in particular serving justice in their own territories/nations and environments before they can be served the plate of justice by the rest of the world.

Of course, this is easier said than done. Anybody in the Senegalese team or any other African team that competed in the World Cup would easily give his arm’s worth to play for the French Team or another Western Team for that matter. The reason, which is not far fetched, being that they would be accorded their deserving respect -win or lose- and would be given their rightful dues at the end of the competition.
African nations on the other hand need to improve on human rights of their people, support talent rather than stifle creativity especially in our workplaces, encourage diversity, empower youth and women, use technology and perhaps create that trippy sci-fi kingdom of Wakanda of the movie Black Panther, so that we can earn some respect for the black skin and Africa as a whole.

This is the only way out for our race…Not the emotions, the Pull-Him-Down-Syndrome, the unnecessary jealousy and fights to obtain positions we can’t manage in our institutions etc. Africa does not lack educated and talented people other than sportsmen, Africa lacks leadership to hone these talents and get the best out of its peoples.

For these reasons, the best amongst us, will continue to leave its shores for greener pastures in the West, be they sportsmen, engineers, doctors, IT experts whatever! … In pursuit of dignity and self-respect. Even if justice is not served to them by the West…

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