The Atlantic

The French Don’t Understand American Identity Politics

Trevor Noah and a French diplomat had a very public spat over race.
Source: Elizabeth Shafiroff / Reuters

If you were looking for a textbook example of the differences between how the United States and France think of themselves as multiethnic nations, look no further than the tiff this week between The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah and Gérard Araud, France’s ambassador to the United States. After France’s multiethnic national team won the World Cup, Noah joked on his show on Tuesday that “Africa won the World Cup.” Noah, who is a South African of mixed race, meant the line as a compliment—unlike some on the far right in France who over the years have criticized the team for having too many players of color.

Still, it upset Araud, a seasoned diplomat and , who sent a letter of complaint, suggesting Noah had failed to understand that French. (Note to the Quai d’Orsay: France is known around the world for many commendable qualities; sense of humor is not one of them.) Noah read Araud’s letter aloud on his show on Wednesday, during an eight-minute that was a sophisticated riff on the questions and ironies of “hyphenated identities” in the United States, France, and beyond.

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