The French WC victory and ethnicity

Following the French 2018 World Cup victory, people on both the far left and the far right began tweeting things along these lines: ‘Congratulations to Africa on winning the world cup. Isn’t immigration wonderful/horrible?’ In response, a number of people said ‘They’re FRENCH, not Africans! Ethnicity doesn’t matter! They’re French citizens so they’re French! Many were born in France! FRENCH!’

I find both positions rather sad and inaccurate. Let me explain.

My grandfather was born in Finland. His dad had been in America before moving to Finland, where he fought for Finnish independence (and was wounded). My grandfather grew up in Finland, and never lived a day in his life in Sweden (though he has of course visited) – yet he is proudly Swedish, not Finnish. Of course, he has nothing against Finns. He calls himself a Swede-Finn (and so did many of the others in his city, which had a large ethnically Swedish percent). He served in the Finnish merchant marines.

Then he came to America, where he served in our military for two years before going into civilian life as an electrical engineer, and marrying an Irish-American woman. He is of course an American citizen. But his Swedish ethnic identity has always been important to him.

Perhaps in part because this kind of appreciation of one’s ethnicity has always seemed normal to me, when I look at people try to erase this aspect of a person’s identity, and reduce all such things to citizenship, I find it very sad. Citizenship is very important, and should be what matters for political rights, etc., but ethnicity is a fascinating thing about a person. Why would anyone want to erase that aspect of themselves or anyone else? If I were to move to, say, Japan, and become a citizen there, I would nonetheless be quite upset if anyone described me as simply ‘Japanese.’ This would be unfair both to me and to the ethnic Japanese.

So when I look at these French players, yes, they’re French, but they’re not the same as the French who are descended from the Franks. Or the other ethnic groups that have been in France for hundreds of years. And I think it is unfair to erase that difference, just as it is unfair to simply call them Africans.

In the film (which everyone should watch) ‘The Free State of Jones,’ the two main characters (a white man and a black woman) have a baby together. She asks, ‘Is she black or white?’ and he answers ‘Neither, she’s something new.’ As demographics change and people move and intermingle, people become something new, yet those new things have their roots in older things. We should acknowledge where these new types of people came from, while also acknowledging that they are something new. Neither the woke left and alt right ‘They’re Africans which is great/awful,’ side, nor the ‘THEY’RE JUST FRENCH’ side, is doing these players, or France, or Africa, justice.

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