Black tribute to France

Keith Haring, untitled, 1983


Europe will never let any of us go as long as we proudly render it so many services, rarely recognized.

I would like to believe that every time Mbappe, Umititi, Pogboa, Matuidi, Varane did what they do so well with their muscles, their brains, their wits and a football, they transported me by doing it with them, forcing me to wanting to give them my own body so that they could go to the end, I was not willing to prostrate myself before the golden calf which has become, among many of us, our eternal tutoring power.

Like many other viewers, I assiduously followed the football World Cup matches, which just took place in Moscow. And, like them, I went through millions of emotional states, which we experience every four years under such circumstances. In the beginning, I supported all the African teams en bloc – Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia, Nigeria and Senegal. What agony, as things progressed, to be beaten often by close scores, the odd goal or two conceded in the last minute after so much resistance and, at the end of it all, elimination – and the often disappointing hope of better performances next time!

After all the African teams were eliminated, I immediately turned to rooting for our brothers from the south of the world – Colombia (today, the most African team in Latin America), Brazil (where blackness is struggling once again to rise ), Argentina (which got rid of all its blacks throughout the 2010th century), even Uruguay (and this despite Luis Suarez's villainous gesture against Ghana in XNUMX).

Then choose politics. The truth, however, is that despite our efforts and all our good intentions, we are never in a position to purge ourselves of Europe. Europe, for its part, will never let any of us go as long as we proudly render it so many services, rarely recognized.

France and Belgium therefore had my voice. But my destination for this World Cup, as for previous ones, is France, to which I am attached for both sentimental and practical reasons.

Not without dilemmas. France was supposed to face Argentina, Uruguay, then Belgium. Against Argentina and Uruguay, it was necessary to choose between my affection for the ancient (and eternal) tutor power and my fraternal loyalty to the other countries of the South of the world. My tutor won.

Against Belgium, that choice was reaffirmed despite the direct, potent and attractive game of the “Black Devils”. I would love for Romelu (Lukaku) and Vincent (Kpmpany), captivating figures, to make it to the final. But, I thought that France was better positioned and had more assets to finish the job, to impress the minds both for the strength of the group and for the coldness of the expression, for being the visible and brilliant manifestation of another way of being present in the world, in these times of proto-fascism, of islamophobia, of rising anti-immigrant sentiments… In short, in this anti-enlightenment era.

Many know that I have deep disagreements with France when it comes to its African policy or even the Francophonie, even though the two are hardly separable.

For many years now, I have been one of the most bitter critics of the mercantilism and paternalism that characterized France's presence in Africa. And on numerous occasions, I intervened in the French public scene on this topic and many others such as racism and issues related to immigration; or even when it was necessary to confront a kind of “provincial tropism”, from which the French cultural and intellectual elites suffer, even when the planet calls us.

Despite this huge dispute of opinions, I am not able to turn my back on this team.

Again, I do not perceive any major contradiction between my support for this team and my criticism of the bad institutional treatment that France inflicted on Africans in Africa or those that it reserves, in the metropolis, for French citizens of African origin.

In any case, in this team, there were always in the past as today countless of "us", people who, at a glance, give the impression of resembling us.

As before, I cannot immediately find that “our presence” on this team means nothing; that it has strictly no impact on the great ongoing symbolic and political struggles – the struggles over citizenship and identity, over belongings, recognition and relating to others, while the ideology of white supremacy (which was at the source of slavery, colonialism and racism) takes back the hair of the beast across the world.

It must also be said that I personally know some of the players on this team, young black men with whom I am in contact, young people (not all obviously) who are moved by concern for Africa or who wonder about its future, who manifest a curiosity intellectual, even active cultural and political interest in our common condition in the world at large and not just in France or Europe.

French by birth or adoption, most of them are aware of the living contradiction, of which they are the manifestation within a consumer society, which envies their sudden riches, but does not hesitate to stigmatize them and all those who look like them; who does not hesitate to mock the predilection of some for banners, junk and hardware, the lack of refinement of these black-eternal-laughter-children and the attraction exerted on them by toys of all kinds, by everything that shines but without value, reflection – we deduce from it - from their lack of education, if not from the filthy origins they wear as their clothing, their permanent symbol.

They know that every time they wear the national shirt, being able to sing La Marseillaise at the top of their voices, a good part of opinion – and not necessarily French – will always ask themselves the question of knowing where they come from and what they do there, or even wonder how such a civilized nation can be represented on the world stage , by so many bums in disguise.

We repeat. They are there because of the story. In the direct case that interests us, one thing must still be remembered. Modern France, in its quest for greatness and for its survival as a world power, has always needed “black subsidies”.

Shall we mention the two wars against Germany and in particular Hitlerism and Fascism? Where would they be without Felix Éboué,[I] Blaise Diagne[ii] and the “black force”? Is it a matter of saving the colonial Empire or waging counterinsurgency wars in Madagascar, Indochina or Algeria? More or less the same recipe. Who should stand in front of the cannons on the battlefields of Europe or when setting fires and reasons in Kabylie or when it is necessary to behead guerrillas in the southern forests and on the plateaus of Western Cameroon?

And what about the CFA Franc,[iii] from the more or less captive deposits of the African subsoil, such as uranium, from the African territory itself, from the military bases in Dakar, Abidjan, Ndjamena, Djibouti, a real electoral tax, or from the military presence in Mali and in the Sahara desert, the new epicenter of the new rush to Africa in the Anthropocene era?

All this bloodshed and this puncture, all these territories, all these deposits, all these bodies and all these tensed muscles – all this constitutes the “black subsidy” of France.

All this is part of the formidable tribute that Africa has not ceased to pay to France for some centuries now – tribute in blood, tribute in men, tribute in riches of all kinds that Africa has not ceased to sacrifice on the altar of this history that produced this team. , for the greater glory of another power that is not African, power and glory, to which we are condemned to always participate by proxy.

Thanks to football, we can therefore enjoy them by proxy, without any bitterness, in an almost vicarious way, we still have to be aware of that. For the rest, how can you reasonably expect a sport, even football, to settle the accounts of a rather dirty history on its own?

How, reasonably, to weigh on such young shoulders the continuations of that dirty history in the present – ​​the anti-Black racism, the creeping Islamophobia, the police brutality in the streets and in the police stations and other public spaces, the endless facial controls, now and then a life interrupted or electrocuted on the curve of nowhere or for so little, an ambulance that doesn't arrive, a muffled breath, the hunt for migrants, their detention in countless camps, their deportation in inhumane conditions, the black overpopulation in prisons, black life besieged a little everywhere, in Africa included, as well as other subaltern lives.

Perhaps we put too much hope in football, that pure opium of contemporary capitalism, the narcotic par excellence of the “society of the spectacle”, in these times of triumphant neoliberalism and the resacralization of inequalities, including racial ones.

Perhaps after all, this is what mega events such as the football world cup are for – to make us fall asleep, rock us in the cradle of illusions, make us live by proxy, forgetting everything, starting with the essentials, namely , the rise of the oceans, the Earth destroying itself, entire territories made uninhabitable, which are poisoned with pesticides, water and air made toxic, millions of fleeing people turned into rubbish, others who are drowning in plain sight and a little everywhere, a new cycle of brutality, imprisonment and expulsions, on a planetary scale.

And meanwhile!

And yet, every time I see Kilian Mbappe run as fast as Husain Bolt, every time I see Pogba, Umtiti or Varane score a decisive goal, every time I see N'Golo Kante or Matuidi tirelessly harass the opponent, as if they were endowed with three lungs each, I allow myself to be transported, as if to give them a supplement of strength, which they might need, to accompany them to the goal, to jubilation.

In doing so, I am far from celebrating national chauvinism, which would have caused so many mistakes, so many humiliations and so much suffering, both in Africa and among French citizens of African descent in the metropolis.

Not being a happy slave, overcome with joy and totally unaware of his condition, I was simply remembering one thing – what will it take if we are indeed to end what Africa and its people across the world have suffered for centuries. , often by a double internal and external escape, an escape that will have cost us so much, both in physical and moral strength.

I was just reminding you what it will take to actually change the course of our history in the modern world; what it will take to heal our world of anti-Black and anti-Arab racism; anti-human kind, in this age of anti-enlightenment.

Besides, and just like in 1998, this victory, sacrament par excellence of the ephemeral, will hardly change the fundamentals.

It would take more than a victory in a football stadium on a summer night in Moscow for the rubbish of history to be cleaned up and for everyone, young players included, to be restored to their full humanity.

But if, deep down, nothing truly new is announced, at least the joyful spectacle, of which we were peripheral witnesses, changes the scene. At least it allows us to breathe, in the space of an instant, and to become aware – that we too, like others, can win.

In fact, it serves for a people that had the habit of losing, of losing frequently and also of losing so regrettably, to reconnect us with the idea, according to which we are capable of winning for ourselves and with others, without price.

*Achille Mbembe He is a philosopher and historian. Author, among other books, of Necropolitics (n-1 editions).

Translation: Ernani Chaves.

Originally published on the portal AOC.


[I] Adolphe Sylvestre Félix Éboué (January 1, 1884 – May 17, 1944) was a French colonial administrator and leader of Free France (n. of T.).

[ii] Blaise Diagne (13 October 1872 – 11 May 1934) was a Senegalese and French political leader and mayor of Dakar. He was the first person of West African descent elected to the French Chamber of Deputies and the first to hold a French government office (N. do T.).

[iii] Franc CFA (French-African Confederation) was a common currency in African countries under French colonization.

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