Since my last blog post, I don’t know if anyone heard but my host country won the World Cup! I had to wait to write this post after the World Cup had ended because the atmosphere of this country would have been very different if we lost. After chanting “Allez Les Bleus” hundreds of times, parading through the streets of Strasbourg, waving French flags, and watching civilians light off flares and fireworks everywhere, I feel like an actual French citizen now!
As we were parading through the streets, many cars were stopped in the road and their passengers were dancing on top of the cars, blasting music and blowing their whistles. All of the restaurants and bars were showing the faces of the soccer players that brought the championship to France and over half of the team is African and/or Muslim. The white French citizens were cheering on their team, as were the black and brown French, as my American friends and myself also were.
In Strasbourg, you can spot an American tourist from a mile away. Unless you’re a black American. Whenever my black friend is seen with us other Americans, he is always asked “and where are you from?” He always responds that he’s American too, and each time he is met with “No you’re not American, you’re African.” Unfortunately, this country is infamous for its nationalistic and xenophobic attitudes, but when France- or to be frank, when the French, Africans, and Muslims- won the World Cup, many French citizens would come up directly to my friend and start cheering in his face. After this happened about 10 times, we realized it was because the French people in Strasbourg thought our black friend was black French, and this was a rare time for them to see a man of color on their streets and be happy. We all wore red, white, and blue and had the French flag chalked onto our cheeks, but we were clearly American. To the locals here, my black friend was not an American.
My initial post largely discussed the racism and marginalization I experienced as a Muslim woman in France, but I watched as my friend experienced another kind of prejudice. A selective prejudice. When he was just going about his day, his presence was perceived an annoyance to the country, but when being black somehow benefited the country, he was cheered on in the streets. As someone who studies Political Science and Human Rights, constantly calls out injustices and advocates for equality, I feel some cognitive dissonance. I don’t even remotely know what to do or say. I don’t even fully understand how this country praises the black men on their soccer team and then marginalizes the black people that walk on their streets. My experience in the United States is not so extreme. The prejudice that is felt towards Muslims and black people is always there; racist football fans don’t start loving the black people on the streets of the United States when a team with black football players wins a game.
In class, we’ve been discussing the term: social entrepreneurship. This notion that you dedicate extensive periods of your life, resources, time and energy to advocate for a specific issue. As an activist, I aspire to become a social entrepreneur and bring a concept such as this to my daily life. But when I find myself so confused and silent when I see something that I’m not used to, I question my own forms of activism. How effective am I, as a leader or as part of a social movement, when I fail to adapt? For the next academic year, I am serving as President of the Middle Eastern Student Association on campus, and I anticipate running into problems that I have never experienced before. So how do I think through situations that may involve prejudice and racism on my own campus? With my program coming to an end in 10 days, I have a lot to think about in order to hone in on my skills for when my semester begins.