After many weeks in Benin, the question was still in the air:
Why do White Women seem so desirable for Black Men?
Participant observation in Benin by Fifame and Sena (i.e. cultural anthropology freaks Terje and Berit) allows me to highlight the following:
White Woman can be seen as an object of property for strategic defence reasons.
This is a a characteristic of the collective societies – when someone literally takes you under his control, you basically have the protection of his entire family which becomes your family. When moving around the town, the White Woman is seen as linked to the company of a Black Man. An imaginary protective shield forms around the white woman, and its strengh depends on the power of the social and symbolic capital of the black man. Economic capital is usually important too, but as there’s usually lack of it in Benin, so this is already a special case here.
In our example, we drove down to the beach in Grand Popo for a change. Chiaka came with us. For him this seemed completely obvious, because how the hell you can send away the women of your own family! But he never left the next day. How he could leave us, the White Women, as we are, after all, under his protection!
At first it seemed a bit harrowing, but after a while we noticed the very practical bottom line. How could it happen that nobody touched or hurt us in this dangerous part of Africa? Well, a few rounds in the city with the company of Chiaka and the protection shield works as magic. White woman (Berit) and his two Black man, for strategic defence reasons.
White Woman as a rich woman
For the people with family, this argument is not very meaningful – beninois are generally very lovely people – but when there is White Woman moving on the streets there is still some sweet smell of money around her. They are not really ripping you off, but deep down they still tend to believe that money grows on the tree on the white people’s land. Even just a bit.
White Woman as a symbol of modernization
For me it seemed that most smart young men in Benin suffered from the lack of expressive freedom. They were born in the turmoil of hot and dusty poverty, their mother is sucking goat’s blood straight from her neck and the father has two wives extra. Grandma is selling pies on a street corner. Uncle is a priest of Fa. Twice a week they go to the Internet cafe, and sadly sigh. Oh, White Woman…
White Woman as a window to Europe – to the land of all opportunities
When White Woman symbolizes modernity, capitalism, constant electricity and running wireless Internet, then Black Man wants to marry the White Woman and fly with her from the symbolic reflection to the Real. They dream of moving to Paris or Marseilles, but the most important thing – to Europe, the land of all possibilities!
What they only do not know is that in France the gender roles tend to turn upside down: White Woman strikes out in the city making career, and Black Man raises children at home and cooks.
White woman as a divine woman
But the most stunning discovery comes from a rastaman artist with a beautiful name Art A Jah. He told me that around the White Woman lies some sort of mystical aura. It’s of purity, holiness, it is glowing aura. A white woman is like veiled. As if White Woman also symbolizes some sort of mental expansion. But for the surprise of the Black Men gender roles get a bit of twist when hanging out with the White Women
But Black Man cannot agree with the White Woman’s ego and desire to be at even with a man. To simply be equal.
Most of the young men’s fathers, on average, have three wives in Benin. Polygamy lives to the fullest. Women are raising children at home, men have sex in rotation.
“Now that woman is a Satan!” Chiaka waves towards the woman carrying a bowl on her head on the other side of the street.
“What do you mean?”
“When we had a relationship, can you imagine, I found her with another guy in bed,” he tells his bleak story.
Me with Sena immediately put up a question – when this is so terrible for the woman, then why does not the same apply for the men. Why polygamy is okay, but only for the men?
Chiaka’s response made the feminist inide of us to raise her head:
“Because a man is a man.”
“Because a man is a man.”