Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
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This week, I decided to become interested in the football World Cup. I know, I know: there’s only one game left. But it’s, like, the best one, right?
I typically stay away from sports for the same reason I stay away from religion and nationalism: I have just never really felt any of these things. That’s despite (and perhaps because of) the fact that I’ve always been surrounded by people who have felt strongly about a team, a god, or a country over another. I get that it’s one way for people to express their identification with a place—That’s my city’s team; those are my people—but to me, a lot of sports-related fervor seems arbitrary and overly tribalistic. That’s why I’ve only been following the FIFA World Cup so far on Twitter, which seemed like a safe distance.
France’s ascent in the tournament has, however, caught my attention. I don’t have any real ties to the country as a whole—in fact, I tend to disfavor former colonizers in global sporting events on principle—but I have realized that I care about its players. I’ve reported in some of the banlieues of Paris, suburbs that aren’t far from where many of them—including the formidable Kylian Mbappé—come from. These are areas that have, in many ways, been stigmatized by French policy, and its residents of immigrant background—especially Muslim ones from former colonies—continue to be treated as the other. It’s as if they cannot be French enough.
It’s ironic then, as Clint Smith notes in The New Yorker, that it’s these black and brown young men who dominate the field in their blue kits, taking the nation to victory. These are the Frenchest of the French, the true faces of the country—and yet, many in the French establishment have not accepted that. So while I don’t subscribe to the “us vs. them” aspect of sports, let’s just say I will feel something if the banlieusards win this one.
What we’ve been writing:
The country club is dead; long live the (millennial-oriented) country club. ¤ Inadvertent lessons on segregation from HGTV’s “House Hunters.”¤ A cultural history of the family road trip. ¤ We need to talk about farting on public transit. ¤ In London, a “carnival of resistance” brews in response to the American president. ¤ A Soviet-era synthpop ode to cars. ¤