Dashiki Man, White Woman: The curious unions of pro-black men and white women

By Panashe Chigumadzi (@panashechig)

“That made sense. I could easily understand the fact that the likes of Diop and Fanon (and even the black men of ‘liberation generation’ with white spouses e.g. Dali Tambo and Tokyo Sexwale) often had the kind of access to diverse social circles (by virtue of belonging to an elite class) where interracial interactions may have been commonplace. This is the kind of access that many black women (and men) did not, and still don’t, have access to in those pre-liberation times.”

“What is it about black women that we seem to want to be escaped so much by black men, even those of the ‘liberation generation’?”

I asked Ever-Suffering this question quite pained. Some context: there were three separate events that came together like wave crests crashing and led me to my appeal for answers from my boyfriend as follows:

The first was reading a number of tweets by the irrepressible Kola Boof bemoaning the fact that there seems to be a trend where revered anti-colonialism figures had white spouses, examples including Frantz Fanon (the Algerian philosopher, writer, revolutionary and psychiatrist) and Cheikh Anta Diop (Senegalese anthropologist, politician, historian and physicist). She found it disturbing that these heroes in Afrocentricism did not ‘affirm’ black women by marrying them and instead married white women, almost implying they “should have known better”.

The second happened when Ever-Suffering and I attended a party where we’d spotted a dashiki-wearing man, a la Dali Tambo, with his white spouse. We asked ourselves why it seemed that for the older generation the over-whelming majority of the black men that had or have white spouses were dashiki-wearing men. We made a generalization and took dashikis, decidedly not the common dress of the ‘modern’ Southern African man, as an indicator of a sort of Afrocentrism, an indicator that the wearer the kind of person who might just have ‘Not Yet Uhuru’ as the soundtrack to his life. So we thought it amusing that this ‘liberated’ man was the one with the most pronounced preference for the ‘former coloniser’ as a mate.

The third ‘event’ that precipitated the question was reading about a celebration of the life of the late Zimbabwean writer Dambudzo Marechera (arguably he didn’t make any pretense to beingt he archetypal anti-colonial or Afrocentric figure) held at Oxford’s Trinity College where it was apparently remarked that “he had many white girlfriends”. It’s important to note that “many white girlfriends” doesn’t necessarily mean no black girlfriends or even a preference for white women.

Nevertheless, I was reminded of the last two ‘events’ and wanted to borrow a line from Marechera’s House of Hunger and ask Fanon and Diop: “How did you reconcile your politics with your sexual adventures?”

So, after taking Ever-Suffering through the reasons behind my question, he responded by referring me to to a blogpost titled ‘Yes It’s True…Black Guys Can Like White Girls AND Black Girls Too’ by The Champ of Very Smart Brotha’s fame. Here’s what I found to be the most important insight:

“Proximity and availability are easily the two most important factors when men are choosing mates. If you see a black man with a non-black women, 9 times out of 10 it’ll be because she happened to be around, happened to be single, and happened to be interested in him. That’s it. No self-loathing. No hatred of black skin.”

That made sense. I could understand the fact that the likes of Diop and Fanon (and even the black men of ‘liberation generation’ with white spouses e.g. Dali Tambo and Tokyo Sexwale) often had the kind of access to diverse social circles (by virtue of belonging to an elite class) where interracial interactions may have been commonplace. This is the kind of access that many black women (and men) did not, and still don’t, have access to in those pre-liberation times.

Now not as emotional I nodded and offered the fact there are many other pro-black men who have married and thereby ‘affirmed’ black women. Malcolm X, W. E. B. du Bois, Julius Nyerere and Robert Sobukwe are amongst those who have done so.

My pain eased up, though I was still a little unsatisfied because I didn’t see the same thing happening for black women with comparable access to diverse social circles by virtue of their success. I suggested Ever-Suffering and I do a mini survey of black women who would have had the same kind of access to a racially-diverse social circle. Off the top of my head I offered Angelique Kidjo and Jean Hébrail, Grace Jones and her ex -husband Chris Stanley, Iman and David Bowie and Naomi Campbell and Roman Abramovich.

Ever-Suffering then pointed out that it’s also important to note that success and upward mobility (which is what often facilitated the access) doesn’t always do the same things for men and women in the dating game, regardless of race. Success tends to make men more attractive and ups their advantage in dating. Women tend to become less attractive by becoming ‘intimidating’ to potential suitors of any race, and so, their potential dating pool may shrink.

“True that,” I conceded. (Admittedly quite dejected about my own prospects should This Thing between me and Ever-Suffering end, having the ambitions that I do.)

I then brought up that Asian men are supposedly “the other big losers in the interracial dating game”. A little weary of the amount of “research” that would have to go into this, we ended the conversation about dashiki men and their white women with a promise to do a survey on upper middle class Asian men and their interracial dating experiences.

In the meantime, weigh in why don’t you?

 

47 Comments
  1. Yeah, I don’t buy that “proximity” is all there is to interracial dating. I’m referring to this quote:

    “Proximity and availability are easily the two most important factors when men are choosing mates. If you see a black man with a non-black women, 9 times out of 10 it’ll be because she happened to be around, happened to be single, and happened to be interested in him. That’s it. No self-loathing. No hatred of black skin.”

    The people you mentioned, Marechara and Fanon, took the issue of race very personally (quite clearly, because they devoted their whole lives to studying it and writing about it), so I don’t think it’s unreasonable to consider that the choice to be with a white person is a political, or more “deliberate” decision.

    I don’t necessarily think that it’s a self-loathing issue either. It could also be an “I as a straight, black man, am going to take the white woman from the white man” issue or a “my social status improves because I’m a black man” issue. I don’t think it’s always the case in hetero-interracial relationships involving black men and white women, but I do think it is, sometimes.

    1. I agree it’s proximity (or availability for that matter) can’t be the only factor, and the ones that you mention are factors too.

      I’m interested to know how you might think the dynamic would change if these were homosexual-interracial relations. Admittedly, my hetero bias is showing because I didn’t quite consider that as I wrote this piece. I suppose it may be because the piece narrowed down interracial relationships to those between more prominent anti-colonial/black power figures, and the questions their sexual preferences have drawn and as far as I know there are not any openly gay prominent anti-colonial/black power figures. I should probably do some research. Thanks for alerting me to that!

  2. Recently Oprah had an interview with Tina Turner and her husband Erwin Bach they have been together for more than 20 years. What struck is that when asked about his relationship with Tina who is black and older Erwin replied “when I look at Tina I don’t see an older woman or a black woman, but I see the woman I fell in love with and love.” So it all about love. The one factor that we must not discount is love. Sir Seretse Khama of Botswana was married to an English woman their marriage lasted until death even though they were hard challenges and opposition by the Bangoato tribe to the marriage. But love prevailed. Koffie Anan the then Secretary General of te UN is also married to a white woman.
    Maybe we should not label and put unnecessary boundaries love is the universal language understood by all races and people made in image of God Almighty. Can you imagine there are 7billion people on earth and you want to limit the possibility of finding true love to a fraction of the world’s population!!!

  3. That whole argument of “I don’t see a black/white person” when you look at the person you’re dating is a little problematic for me, and also too pseudo-utopic. Of course you see that person’s race. I am currently dating a white person and yes, definitely, without fail, race is an issue. Negatively? Not all the time. But talking about colour blindness makes no sense to me because our different races are even more glaring and apparent when we are at our most intimate because there’s context. There’s power. The question is how do you deal with all that context. You talk about it.
    But I definitely agree that we must not overlook love and proximity. If I meet this person and we are romantically drawn to each other, how do you say no to dating them because of their race? What are you then? A racist. But! BE prepared to deal with the complexities. And all relationships, whether you come from the same race or not, have complexities.
    I wish I could really get into it. But I have to run…

  4. Sometimes we complicate life more than neccesary. Yes, I am – as a black man – attracted to women of other races because they probably come with experiences and views that are novel to me. Is it so hard to believe that I’m not trying to change the world by finding different people sexually attractive?

  5. Did I miss something – Who is Ever-Suffering?

    There is a clear trend – most black-white relationships are between black men and white women (I guess 9 out of 10). That’s at least my observation as a person of both white German and black South African descendants living in Europe.

    I cannot really tell the reasons for it, but I guess white women are more likely to date a black man than white man dating a black woman. If you take into consideration physical attractiveness – then you will clearly find that an attractive black woman and an attractive black man are more likely to date anyone then non-attractive black or white (or whatever) people. So, I’m more worried about “lookism” in general, than about black men dating white women.

    I find the term interracial highly ridiculous – it suggests that there are separate human races!

  6. Maybe I am old-fashioned, or is it because I am a politically-conscious Black South African person of Indian-origin, that for me, Black is a matter of politics and not melanin. If Fanon’s wife was someone who did not share his views on white supremacy and its inherent role in Black subjugation, particularly psychologically and subliminally than there is a case to answer. The question for me is how liberated is the person from conservative and reactionary values, a woman who happens to be Black socially but regards herself as inferior to white persons and males, is a person I want to help conscientize and liberate, but cannot be somebody I could be attracted to.

    In many ways the matter of the ‘dashiki’ Black man is further reinforcement of the idea of a liberated Black man just wanting to be a white man, or a further undermining of the Black man as a person who can go beyond race and that does not mean ignoring the economic and social challenges of race.

    If any of these men and women quoted in the article fell in love or married a racist, then there is cause for concern, as long as they fell in love with a person with values and revolutionary ideas like their’s then we should not bother about their partner’s melanin-content.

    My ten cents (up from two cents because of inflation)…..

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