The simplest of questions isn’t it….
Something you hear pretty often when you travel , and even more often, if historically people like you weren’t traditional habitants of the place you currently call home.
Recently a celebration of my favorite sport came to an end.
I am talking of course about the FIFA World Cup. A Time when even those who care little about the sport , come together to cheer, laugh and even cry, for their country. It’s a time when you can witness unity among people of the same ethnicity but also people from different ones.
After years of existence, travels, multicultural couples and sadder events like wars and poverty…many big countries or the G8, if you like have “adopted” many different people from a thousand backgrounds and through the years those people have became a part of countries like France, England or Germany.
Few weeks back, after France won, a debate erupted around the origins of some players who represented the national team. Of course as a person who it’s nationality is completely different from it’s birthplace. I struggled with the subject, I wanted to write about it, but I wasn’t sure I could help address the subject properly.
As it seems I needed an incentive.
It took two personalities that I admire to get me to say , I’ll do it.
One of them was a South African comedian with growing reputation and host of the Daily show in the U.S, that I’ve following from some time.
And the other one was the 44th president of the U.S.
Both of them adressed the subject with eye-opening statements with the right amount of humor as usually good speeches need. Although one took a different approach than the other , in my opinion, i believe they we’re both right.
Before i present my case i’ll like to point out that, the pair has one thing in common. They are not just black, they are not just white, they are both. It may seem a coincidence but i deem it is not. While skin color is not the focus of my argument, in this case it serves my case. Due to both Trevor Noah and B.Obama growing up having two cultural and ethnic upbringings in a time where people were focused on what separates them, they were probably trying to find unity in diversity.
Let me explain,
Long time ago France took in a big number of immigrants from old colonies, that made the 2018 France an extremely diverse and open-minded country. Sadly, not everyone agreed. Whether it was the last time the French football team won the title or last july, some people who enjoy spreading hate and discrimination starting saying “Africa won” trying to deny the French identity of the players who either had immigrant parents or born outside of the french borders. Generally i am not one to focus on such negative things, but i’ve been a football fan for many years and in every national competition there is usually one or few who feel the need to disdainfully point out “look he can be from there, he’s white, brown, black or his last name sounds/seems different.
Every time i hear that sentence i can help to think, “why? if they are playing for the national team not only it means they have the nationality which was granted by the country they are representing at the moment , but above all it means they proud enough to want to represent and win for that country” . I mean, of course i recognize that the person may or may have characteristics that historically attributed to other cultures. I am probably biased but i don’t think , it makes them less of whatever nationality.
With that being said this particular debate had many aspects. There was also a huge amount of people, mostly based in the countries ,a majority of the french players had origins from. Africa.
I’ll be honest, at first i equally struggled when i heard that phrase whether it came from european or african people. I was watching the games with close family and for the life of me, i couldn’t understand why they kept asking me “where’s tha guy from?” followed by “he looks from Mali, Togo or Cameroon etc”. Frankly, my personal life experience, in addition to some less than charming comments i had recently heard may affected my judgement at the time. So every time they asked i answered quite irritated, “His parents!.. are from Mali ” followed by a thought ” He is obviously french as you can see”.
Keep it mind that in this situation there was no disdain in the comments or question and that’s exactly where the difference lies.
As the comedian i mentionned earlier explained in his show, africans in general did not try to deminish the french identity of those individuals, they were simply expressing pride. When a kid or an adult let’s say from Mali, who is a football fan watched a french player with Malian ancientry, somehow they felt also represented and proud. Plus the french football league has a huge number of african players and many african countries have a close relationship to France.
There are a million good and sad reasons that lead someone to live the country he/she was born in. It is not easy to explain the feelings of someone who possess a different cultural heritage than his peers even though they share a simiral present and future. In time that person adopts the same heritage as everyone else in the environment he/she is growing. Although that fact doesn’t erase or make his origins less important.
Let me illustrate this with a simple, slightly illogical example. To better comprehend , let us say there are no men (countries are usually portayed as women either way).
First Imagine a kid living, learning and growing with her mother. A big part of who that person is, it came from her. She is the one who taugh her how to walk, talk and run. She is the one who protected her and now that she is a grown up she going to return the favor, by helping her stay healthy and strong even is she is getting older , and make her proud in every way. She even going to make necessary changes that the mother doesn’t think she needs to ensure a bright future.
Now imagine another kid who began her life like the first one, yet while she was still young kid or teenager , she was forced to move with her aunt. So she is growing up thinking her aunt is her mother and even though at some point she notices she doesn’t look like her and undestands she is not her “real mother” the feeling she has towards her as strong as if she was. Even when during adolescence her bahavior frustrated her unperfect aunt, so much she shouted “i should have left you to your mother “. All those events doesn’t change the second child to grow and feel the need to behave like the first.
Her mother maybe sick not able to take care of her, unable to have visitors or maybe she was a bad mother with a lot of issues when she had her but was different before. That means that when you ask the adolescent or the adult “who is your mother” the answer may not be as simple as it was in the first case. The kid may have never forgot her mother and learned everything about her or she was mad but still can erase the connexion.
The kid may feel many different things but the fact remains that while she was adopted by her aunt and she celebrates her aunt, she was brought to life by her mother and she should not forget that. In her heart there is always going to be a part of her mum. How big it only depends on only one person, despite how grateful the kid can be to both aunt and mother or no matter what other mothers say about the adoption. The decision lies in the kid’s feelings, she can feel a sense of attachement and pride to both, one or none.
Basically what i am saying is respect the person’s choice and put an effort to understand. Don’t refuse their chosen identity or inheritated one, allow that person to be proud and celebrate both or simply the one they feel they belong.
I obviously won’t deny it is not always that simple, nevertheless i hope my crazy example wasn’t too complicated and there’s no need to implicate grandmothers and such.
I realize that sometimes ,the compulsion to separate, can be useful. Still It should not divide. Take your eyes for example
“Even though the eyes don’t see each other, they see things together, blink simultaneously and cry together”
In other words UNITY.
Whether is a simple social interaction, a local or a national team, focus more on what makes you similar and eventually learn from what differs you from one another.
An eternal optimist