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France’s championship-winning World Cup team features no less than 15 players with African roots, including the dynamic 19-year-old forward Kylian Mbappe, who is descended from an Algerian mother and Cameroonian father. The team’s pan-African make-up goes a long way toward helping the world — including European soccer fans who have chanted ugly racist slogans against black players — reimagine the most popular sport on the planet and what it means to be a citizen.
The team’s success is particularly noteworthy because of the way in which anti-immigrant sentiment, especially against migrants with African roots, has roiled French society over the past two decades. In 2005, racial and urban unrest gripped suburban housing projects outside of Paris in the wake of the death of two teenagers who were electrocuted in a substation after being chased by police. And just last month, riots erupted in the French city of Nantes, two hours outside of Paris, after a young Guinean immigrant was shot and killed after being stopped by the police.
The racial and ethnic diversity of the French World Cup team offers another, more optimistic, lesson about immigration, globalization and citizenship. While the entire team will be hailed as heroes in France, those of African descent still face discrimination based on the color of their skin. Countless numbers of African immigrants, including those fleeing war zones, face daunting prospects of gaining entrée into France for themselves and their families.
The French people’s warm embrace of African sports icons should be extended to the large numbers of immigrants from across the African and Caribbean diaspora who are seeking a refuge against man-made and natural disasters in their country of origin.
France’s World Cup team demonstrates to all how immigration, at its best, holds the key to a liberated and more humane future for us all.