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The “French Spiderman” story is problematic for several reasons – here’s why

It's a beautiful story, but it sends an awful message about how the world views immigrants.

Mamoudou Gassama lived a quiet life in France before his life was forever changed. Without a moment’s hesitation, he decided to commit an act of selfless bravery and kindness. Bystanders stood by recording in awe as Gassama scaled a building with seeming superhero-like powers to rescue a baby dangling from a balcony. He successfully saved this child from sure death and was welcomed with cheers and applause. Video of his act soon went viral, and Gassama was deemed as the legendary “French Spiderman.” It didn’t take long for the President of France to see the video of this young man – who wasn’t actually French, but an immigrant from Mali. To thank him for such a brave act, President Macro granted him and his brother French citizenship. While this is a worthy reward for his act of kindness, president Macron’s “gift” really sheds light on the rhetoric in which we view immigrants.

I hate to be the person to find the darkness in a seemingly beautiful story. Everyone wins here. A baby boy lives another day with his family, a man gains the citizenship he was seeking, and President Macron and the rest of the French government can pretend that they care about immigrants or black bodies…at least for a little while.

Gassama’s act was truly an amazing feat, but as millions of undocumented immigrants risk their lives to enter countries like that of France and the United States, they do so knowing they won’t be appreciated. The kind acts they do everyday go (quite literally) undocumented, as they remain unnoticed. They know that they will face discrimination (and in some cases, even violence), but they continue to endure in hopes of a better life. Sometimes, that comes with the gift of citizenship and sometimes, it comes with death. We’ve all heard the stories of undocumented house workers facing sexual assault and abuse – and as soon as they speak out, they disappear.  

Even Mamoudou was shaken with fear when he realized that his act was now public record and his truth would be revealed. Like most immigrants, he didn’t expect to be met with kindness about his undocumented status because France is particularly unkind. Immigrant children are placed in jail and people who help refugees are criminalized. CNN writer Dawn Dimowo stated my thoughts exactly when she said, “a good immigrant is not so much about being legal or illegal, right or wrong, black or white. It is about being desired.”

The “reward” itself is also problematic, as it conveys an interesting and harmful message: that immigrants must be “superhuman” to be considered human.  Immigrants are automatically met with suspicion just because they’re immigrants. The world is quick to believe that they’re “sketchy” and trying to steal something – be it food, jobs, or citizenships rather than believe that these are real people trying to survive. Immigrants have morals just like us and care about other people. It’s almost insulting to think that the world is so surprised that an immigrant would commit such a brave act, because in my eyes, of course, they would! Immigrants are built on bravery. There’s no braver act than leaving your own country to one where you will face hardship and discrimination, just in hopes of building something for your family.

Like I said, this is an amazing story and not something we get to see every day – but I also can’t ignore the uneasy feeling it gave me in my stomach. So often we focus on America’s immigration issues and racism but forget that racism is a global issue that began in Europe. And France is JUST as racist as anywhere else especially against black immigrants who are coming from the countries that they colonized and ruined, so giving Gassama citizenship was the very least Macron could have done.