It’s Not Crazy for African-American World Cup Fans to Root for Ghana

Race Manners: For many black people who watched the match between the two countries, the sense of connectivity with people of African descent worldwide wasn’t a game. And it never has been.

Ghana’s fans cheer before the Group G football match between Germany and Ghana at the Castelao Stadium in Fortaleza, Brazil, during the 2014 FIFA World Cup June 21, 2014.


Dear Race Manners:

In Team USA’s World Cup game against Ghana, I found myself cheering for Ghana. On Twitter I was accused of being unpatriotic, including by some people I respect. It’s hard to explain, but what can I say? I wanted the African team—or maybe the brown(est) team—to win (I’m black). Am I wrong? —World Cup Worries

If your friends are going to commit to tweeting accusations about patriotism at those who cheer for squads other than Team USA, they’ll be busy. I used the social network to ask, “Raise your hand if you cheer for World Cup teams playing against Team USA because of something to do with your racial/ethnic identity,” and received a chorus of affirmative responses, like this one:

Some responses, like “If by ‘racial/ethnic identity’ you mean a hatred of white supremacy, militarism, and hegemony, mine is raised” (the author of that tweet preferred to stay anonymous), had nothing to do with direct family ties.

Other fans apparently split the difference between rooting based on citizenship and rooting based on other interests—racially and culturally inspired interests—and cheered for both. Cherae Robinson, writing about “the complicated life of African-American World Cup fans,” observed that in the Brooklyn, N.Y., bar where she watched the Ghana game, “Almost every black person in the bar was up on their feet rooting for the Black Stars with the same fervor as they had cheered team USA an hour before.”

Given that we’re in an ethnically diverse country, talking about an international sport, there’s nothing strange or shocking about this choice. Just think of Irish fans in Boston cheering for Ireland, or Italian Americans in South Philadelphia or the North Side of Chicago rooting for Italy, says Gregory Carr, chair of Howard University’s Afro-American-studies department. After all, in his view, “Our experience is also an immigrant experience.”

Lineage, the Diaspora and an Affinity for the Underdog

But there’s another reason you and other African Americans who don’t think of themselves as immigrants and can’t trace their lineage to any particular place on the continent might have cheered for Ghana.

“For many, rooting interest is as wide as not only the African continent but African people, and our passion connects to people of Africa worldwide,” says Carr. Plus, he says, all sports allow people to give expression to greater passions, and for plenty of black people, those passions include concern for the plight of people we perceive as underdogs, or oppressed.

So I’m guessing your choice wasn’t just about nonwhite skin color. (It that were the case, you could choose just about any World Cup team, including Team USA, with its large handful of black players—many of them German—to root for.) Rather, it was born from a lived experience. “We’ve had a hard time in this country,” says Carr, “and in those moments when we can give expression to what’s in our heart, we do it.”