The World Cup, Race, and Identity

The World Cup, Race, and Identity

August 07, 2018

Danielle Slaton for Goal Five

Alongside many others around the world, I spent many hours in June and July watching the Men’s World Cup.  I enjoyed the sophistication of Romelu Lukaku, the surprising run by the Russians, the gutsy performances of the Croatians in round-after-round of shootouts, and eventually seeing a restrained and united French team hoist the trophy.

I also remember, in the days following the tournament, how much talk there was about how many players on the French team were of African descent.  Comedian Trevor Noah sparked a heated response from the French Ambassador, Gérard Araud, when he jokingly congratulated Africa on winning the World Cup, referring to the multi-ethnic French team.  That was followed by Mesut Ozil’s announcement to withdraw from the German national team, citing “his feeling of racism and disrespect” from various German sources regarding his family’s Turkish roots.   Ozil wrote, “I am German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose.”

In no way do I believe that I can dissect the incredibly complicated topics of national pride, racism, or individual identity in this short blog, but I can say that these articles and conversations got my attention and made me take note of my feelings on the subject.

You see, I am biracial, mixed, mulatto, light-skinned, half-black/half-white. Various names have been used throughout history, though I think the politically acceptable term I see on most applications these days is “Two or more races.”  That’s the box I check.  Oddly enough, when I was born in 1980, that box did not exist, nor was it an option to check more than one.  My parents were forced to choose, and on my birth certificate, I am 100% African-American. In truth, I am 100% American, my dad is black, my mom is white, and I very much identify with both my African roots and those from Europe.  I really do see both.  I appreciate both.  I am fully both.  But more importantly than the particular way I happen to see myself, is the fact that my viewpoint about myself is my choice, and to be honest, it’s really not as simple as black and white.  Figuring out who you are can be tough for each of us, but when you don’t fit neatly into a specific category, it can be an even more rigorous process.  It took a while for me to find myself, but with time and experience (much of which I gained by traveling the world through soccer and meeting others of different backgrounds, yet with similar stories), I now stand comfortably in my own biracial skin.

I identify with all that is great about being of African descent and all that is special about having ties to Europe.  I also see myself as an athlete, a daughter, a sister, friend, television analyst, advocate, educator.  All of those things are held within me at the same time.  I was all of those things when I won with the U.S. Women’s National Team and was still all of those things when I lost.  I am still all of those things every day and each make me who I am.  And when people look at me and ask, “Are you mixed?”, though I know what they intend, I smile because I know that I am a mix of things far deeper than the color of my skin.

My hope for the future is a world where individuals are judged by what they accomplish, not skin tone or religion or gender.  I dream of a world where we celebrate all of the pieces, not just the ones on the surface that the applications ask us to check in a box.  And though I appreciate the progress we’ve made, and the fact that babies born in 2018 can now be “Two or more races,” I still think we’ve got a way to go.

Danielle was a member of the U.S. Women's National Team from 2000-2005, winning a silver medal at the 2000 Olympics and a bronze in the 2003 FIFA Women's World Cup.  Currently, Danielle is a television analyst for both the men's and women's game.  She will be writing a series of blogs for Goal Five about issues that impact women and soccer.

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