Trevor Noah on being African and Duality of Identity

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What does it mean to be African? Trevor Noah on the Daily Show has schooled the whole of France (heck, the world!) on what it means to be African.

A few days before this video where he responds to the French Ambassador’s letter, Trevor had congratulated Africa for a world cup victory.

Everybody knows France won, but sometimes petty is just one of the nouns that describe Africans.

With tags like “Colonialists must not win,” we know the world cup had a strong hold on a lot of Africans who found this opportunity to discuss the evolution of African identity.

A large number from West Africa, for example, who had been colonised by England, continued to follow the Cup because England was still in the game. This doesn’t imply in any way that identifying with the Brits comes with any major benefits. It’s difficult to understand the dynamics and the relationship is fraught with nuances. The interactions are not just psychological or financial; they are strongly linked to identity.

As Trevor put it, when a black person does something terrible or not too savoury, they’re labelled “African Immigrant”. As soon as an African struggles and finds his way to the top, these nations are suddenly happy to bestow them foreign identities but these identities come with a price – a price that means excluding their Africanness.

Even America which Trevor seems to credit with so much benevolence has its restrictions. Let’s not be too quick to forget the immigrant children the Trump administration separated from their parents under its “zero tolerance” policy.

But back to France. Trevor Noah responded to a letter from French ambassador Gérard Araud criticising him for congratulating Africa on France’s World Cup victory. It’s not the criticism that was the problem. It was this idea that being African is such a thing that cannot be exclusive and combined with other forms of identity. We do not deny that the reality a lot of us have now, the reality a lot of those African French players have, is the result of colonialism. We are no longer just Africans, we are Africans with a history of colonialism and this cannot be erased. The same way we have to get to that point where no matter the accolades showered on a black man for great feats done in the name of France, his Africanness is not denied.

What exactly is it to be an African? Being African is not about your location or the flag you fly or your post office address. It’s an identity you are given by birth that cannot be erased; it shouldn’t be erased. It’s just as valid as any other identity you might be called to bear by reason of your profession or capacity in the world wherever you find yourself.

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