One by one Pogba shouts out his teammates’ names, coining nicknames as he goes. When he gets to Pavard, he repeats the defender’s name three times then starts telling the tale of the goal, still to the beat. By this point Kimpembe is hovering behind Pogba and Umtiti, pouring water from a bottle onto their heads and backs.

Drums, praise, libation—call it a griot moment, or atalaku, the Congolese practice of shouting out patrons and friends in the club—you get the idea. It’s completely African. It’s also completely multiracial, like the team. And, because this is after all France’s national soccer team, it is ipso facto completely French.

So why is everyone debating?

Yes, Trevor Noah, echoing plenty of Black and brown people who enjoyed the France team for its plural origins, quipped that “Africa won the World Cup.” The routine was basic—Noah isn’t really original or all that funny—but the sentiment was affectionate. But France’s ambassador to the United States, Gérard Araud, took offense, equating Noah, a Black African expressing a cultural affinity, with the far-right racists who in the past have criticized the team as too Black to represent France.

The usual avalanche followed, trotting out the usual recriminations, and culminating as always with explainers about how France views race differently from the “Anglo-Saxon” world. Delve into those if you wish, just bear in mind that any generalization about how a whole country thinks is inherently fallacious, and serves a power structure. (Better to read the views of actual Black French analysts like the writer and activist Rokhaya Diallo.)

As for the players, they’ve said a few things: defender Benjamin Mendy, for instance, tweeted a “fix” to a list team members with the flags of their families’ country of origin, replacing all of these with the French flag. Rami, meanwhile, has spoken about how he feels both French and Moroccan, at the same time. All know that identity is politicized—non-white French footballers always seem to get claimed as French when they win, and have their foreign origins emphasized when they do poorly.

But this team has won. Decisively, with a team culture that is fraternal and joyous. They control their own narrative thanks to social media, their Instagram stories bringing fans right into their daily lives. Social media gave us the sight of Mendy and Pogba urging president Emmanuel Macron to hit the dab with them in the locker room after the championship, and the next day, the picture of Pogba with midfielder N’Golo Kanté’s family at the Elysée Palace celebration. Kanté grew up in the Paris banlieue but his mother and aunties look and dress as they would in Mali. Pogba greets them respectfully and sits, in the middle of the madness, to talk to Kanté’s mother like a good son. Someone says alhamdullilah. We are at the seat of French power. This is France. It is French. It is African.

The French team are French. They represent the Republic, and its changes. Young, triumphant, influential, beloved, they are drivers of the culture and they know it. Those both in France and outside who co-opt them into tired ideological frames—politicians like Macron, diplomats like Araud, satirists like Noah—do so at their own risk. These young guys are miles ahead, having fun, blazing the trail.

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