The French Ambassador to the United States recently expressed his displeasure about famous comedian and host of the Daily Talk Show, Trevor Noah, arrogating the French national team’s World Cup win to Africa. The players are fully French and should not be associated with Africa in any way, was pretty much the summary of his letter to Noah. It didn’t matter that almost 70 per cent of them were Blacks whose parents or grandparents had migrated from several African countries. Apart from Noah’s brilliant response to the ambassador’s protest, the issue has once again brought up the question of identity, how it is perceived and what its implications are for an individual ora group of people.
Identity will continue to be the subject of debate and controversy the world over because it determines all other facets of our lives as humans. Not just the way we see ourselves, but the way others see us defines the kind of existence we’ll have. While we often say only a person should define who they are, the reality is that society also has a say, perhaps the greater when it comes to how we are perceived.
And with the subject of identity comes the issue of tribe, religion, race and the resultant racism. You can be the greatest, yet become a victim of tribalism or racism. You can be beautiful, handsome or brilliant and still find yourself not good enough for the one who insists on seeing you only through the prism of colour or religion.
Five-time national team player of the year and World Cup-winning playmaker, Mesut Ozil realised this recently, hence, his decision to quit the German national team. I am not optimistic that racism will one day be a phenomenon that is alien to upcoming generations. Not because I am an inherent pessimist but only because there’s nothing to suggest that the dynamics will pan out differently going by the current happenings around the world.
It’s why I can imagine how Mesut Ozil feels. He was born and brought up in Germany and has been a citizen of the European country for decades. And when the time came for him to choose a country to represent with his amazing football talent, I’m not sure he thought twice before donning the colours of the German national team where he rose through the ranks.
His immense contribution as a part of the huge success story of the DFB can never be wished away. However, this does not erase his ancestry, one he has never been ashamed to talk about and one which deserves to be respected by everyone. If Ozil’s grandparents had not migrated from Turkey, Germany would never have had his talent to explore. The poor outing of the DFB at the just concluded World Cup finals in Russia was a collective underperformance by the entire team and It would be most unfair to single out any player for the dismal run. Worse still, chalk it down to a player who has always given his best, on the premise of an innocuous photograph that was taken months before the tournament.
The Ozil situation may have grabbed the limelight, but this is not the first time immigrant players are expressing dissatisfaction over the kind of treatment they receive when they fall short of expectations. Other high profile footballers such as Romelu Lukaku and Karim Benzema have complained about the same thing in their respective countries. This then begs the question, is there really anything like a successful integration of migrants? Will migrants ever be able to shed the cloak of their ancestry even if they wanted to and no matter how long they have been naturalised or how much they have sacrificed for their host country?
A similar scenario plays out in these parts. More often than not, many of us are born in a state separate from where our parents come from. So you find an individual who was born and grew up in Rivers State for instance, but whose parents are from Ondo State. However, despite the fact that he has never been to his hometown and cannot speak a word of Yoruba, we compel him to identify with Ondo rather than Rivers where he has lived all his whole life. He cannot contest for an elective post in Rivers State and would have to try to make in-roads into the political space in Ondo if he is to realise his dream of becoming a governor, for instance.
I have always found this weird. It’s not rocket science – one who was born and bred in the north should be able to identify himself as a northerner first of all before any allegiance to where his parents come from. And my argument is simple, if you are born and grew up somewhere, it really shouldn’t matter whether your parents are from another place, you are more a citizen of where you were born and bred than any other place in the world. However, you should also be able to lay claim to your each of your parents’ state or country of origin.
I am pretty sure Turkey would have been thrilled to have Mesut play for them. They must have envied Germany after seeing him churn out one great performance after another knowing fully well that it could have been them benefitting from his talent. However, the reality is what it is, but does not change the young man’s history. Famous people of dual heritage all over the world tend to acknowledge their ancestry at some point.
Anthony Joshua refers to his Nigerian roots all the time. The immediate past US President, Barrack Obama visited his home country, Kenya even while he was president. He mingled with his half-siblings and other relatives and did nothing to diminish his power as the first citizen of the most powerful nation in the world.
I think every individual should be at liberty to determine how they wish to be identified. It’s ridiculous and selfish to expect a person of dual heritage or tribe to denounce one or more of their ancestry because they live in a different country.
As long as people migrate, as long as they intermarry or go in search of greener pastures, the subject of identity will almost always attract debate. Nevertheless, identity is personal and should be left to the discretion of the bearer.