France World Cup player Lilian Thuram now fights racism

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A bit off-topic of the blog but a science building on campus is hosting a discussion with Guadeloupe-born footballer, Lilian Thuram. He was considered to be one of the best players in Europe; his best-known accomplishment of his 15-year career playing defender with Monaco, Parma FC, Juventus, FC Barcelona and the French national team, is contributing to France winning the 1998 World Cup.

However, Thuram was forced into retirement in 2008 following a diagnosis of cardiac hypertrophy (ventricular, I assume, and pathological, not typical "athlete's heart"). The same condition claimed Thuram's brother while playing.

Thuram is here not to talk about soccer but rather racism. The auditorium is more packed than I have ever seen for a scientific talk.

Following his retirement, he established the Lilian Thuram Foundation to use education of young people as a strategy for combating racism in Europe. In politics, Thuram made headlines during the 2007 French elections by calling out the institutionalized racism of Nicolas Sarkozy.

"Sarkozy's rhetoric isn't quasi-racist, it is racist," Thuram said in an interview with Spain's El Mundo newspaper.

"He wants to create a ministry of immigration and national identity and that's dangerous ... When you start to divide people and see one group here, Muslims there, the blacks over there, you teach people to see others as different."

Sarkozy has defended his plans for a ministry to protect France's traditional values, saying France had a "gigantic problem" with integration.

"What is being integrated? My mother is French, my father is French. Why do I have to be 'integrated'? Because I am black. You'd never ask if a white man was integrated," Thuram was quoted as saying.

"France doesn't have a problem with immigration, it has a problem with citizenship. Some French people don't think other Frenchmen are French. If I stop playing football tomorrow and I go back to France, people won't see me as a Frenchman, they'll see me as an immigrant," he said.

Thuram is using a translator but it's great to see some of the students asking him questions in French.

Someone asks the obvious question: He doesn't have to do this; he could just enjoy retirement. But what exactly does he think young people could do:

Study how injustices happen, pay attention to history and use it to teach/learn personal responsibility to make changes no matter your station in life. You don't have to be a famous footballer to stand up against racism in your classroom and community.

Previously, Thuram had been under the impression that advances against racism in the US was due to increasing the teaching of African American history in our schools as part of a mandatory curriculum. Since visiting the last few days, he now realizes this is not the case.

Interesting point was made that when first generation of blacks came to France, they made little demands of government; it is only now that the next generation grows up in France that he feels there is at least some resistance even as those in power may institutionalize racism. If I understood the translator correctly, he notes that this may be what is happening in the US with Lations.

One student who is French and black feels that racism gets worse every time she goes back. Thuram says that his perception is that the pushback and demands of blacks (and Muslims) are drawing out racist behavior into the public.

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In the early days of jazz, many of our best (black) musicians went to France because there was no racism there. This is just sad.

Seemingly the French don't like their cars being burned down. Living on the French/Belgian border I know the situation. Everybody is entitled full medical service (i.e. : your are french, you need a new heart, they give the operation for free), free schooling (university fee : 250 dollars/year tuition fee for all of them), free basic income ( in Belgium : prove that you have no income, you get 1000 dollars/month simply like that). People know who is paying for this. But the you see that immigrants (sorry, but that's the fact) burn down hundreds of cars, say that their problems are not due to the fact they aren't schooled but because there is racism, see their problems in writing are nit due to the fact they don't study but because of racism, then you see a whole population indeed turning racist.