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.
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. PATRIK STOLLARZ/AFP/Getty Images

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.”

Patriotism Is Not at Issue

To be clear, there’s a difference between having cheering interests in an international competition that don’t line up with American nationalism and actually being unpatriotic. Tell your Twitter trolls to keep in mind that this wasn’t a war, it was a sporting event, otherwise known as a game. It’s a mistake to confuse affinity for a team in such a context to patriotism or loyalty to one’s country, and it’s safe for everyone to settle down in that area.

Plus, African Americans have always been plenty patriotic, even if many of them experience that sentiment in a way that’s more complicated—and, yes, even more painful—than some might understand.  

“I love this country not because it’s perfect but because we’ve always been able to move it closer to perfection,” President Barack Obama once put it. In Carr’s words, African-American patriotism has largely been pragmatic. (“We have sacrificed blood in every war the U.S. has fought, but remember that in the Revolutionary War, more people fought against the Colonies than for them,” he says. “We didn’t care about the Colonies. We cared about being free!”)

This distinction may be unnerving to those who are shocked to learn that some African Americans see the country, as Carr puts it, as “less of a common project and more of a common context.”

“We have a black president; when will you be satisfied?” your Twitter friends will ask at this point. Answer: Given the way white supremacy and racism and their accompanying policies are playing out in this country right now and affecting people’s lives up until this very moment, with little sign of improvement, probably not for a while.

That’s heavy, but really, let’s keep your expression of support for the Ghana team in your local sports bar or on your Twitter timeline in perspective. Shouting “Goal!” when a non-American team scores “doesn’t mean we’re gonna set fire to cities; it doesn’t mean we’re gonna quit the military,” says Carr. “It’s just a statement that in this battle that doesn’t cost anybody any blood, I’m gonna root for the cats who represents what I identify with. ’Cause I feel like it.”

African-American Rooting Interests Are Often Tied Up With Larger Issues

Anyone surprised by your choice of teams should take a trip down memory lane to see how African Americans’ sense of connectivity to black people worldwide and of social justice without regard for borders has informed whom many of us have rooted for.