- Category: Commentaries
- Written by Jane Musoke-Nteyafas
It was a cool evening on the streets of Yonge and Bloor as I waited impatiently, shivering from the bone-seeping chill, for the traffic light to rotate to red. A green leaf floated by as if trying to remind me that winter was over and spring had just began. It does not feel like it though, I thought sardonically, my eyes riveted upon the numerous, anonymous colorful cars speeding by. As the traffic light slowly turned green, I pulled up the zipper of my coat and moved to cross the street, rubbing my hands together in an effort to keep warm. It was when I slipped my hands back into the warm depths of my deep coat pockets that our eyes met.
We could not help but meet as we crossed the road. She stood out nervously like a sore thumb; like a stumbling, unconfident brown foal across the sidewalk. It was not just her amazing Afrocentric beauty which caught my attention, for she was an incredulously beautiful black teen, but the look in her eyes. It still haunts me. It was a sad, hesitant look as if she were asking for my approval. For a few seconds I wondered why and then it slowly registered within the burning embers of my brain like a lit-up candle when I saw her partner emerge from behind her. It clicked in my mind right away.
He was handsome: tall, well built with chiseled facial features and a body that definitely went to the gym. He had the bluest eyes and the blondest hair that I had seen in a long time. I watched as he crossed the road behind her. His eyes softened with admiration and genuine care as he gazed at her and held out his arm to her once they got to the other side. They stood out like sore thumbs for this is a scene which is still rare within the multicultural realms of Toronto. I saw a few heads turn in their direction and a few eyes narrow in avid contemplation and cruel judgment. Some of those eyes-mostly black males-were even silted with envy. For a city that calls itself multicultural I was surprised. Such relationships are inevitable in a society like ours.
Shaking, she stood beside him; her Afro curves attractively outlined by her gray pants and raked a hand through her long black braids. Her caramel brown eyes were still on me for my head was one of those which had turned but not for the same reason as some of the others. Not for the same evil intentions as some of the others. I was just curious I guess, and slightly amused. Her eyes looked like they were begging for my consent-just to be the one person who did not judge her-and I noticed from the corners of my eyes that there were hardly any black women around the area. My eyes warming up, I winked at her and smiled.
I had no idea of the power of the smile until I saw her relax. Whipping out her arm, she slid it through his teenage arm, her cheeks dimpling as she smiled back at him. Then they walked away together towards the subway.
Jungle fever it is called.
A few years ago, when I was still part of Young Peoples Press, I carried a small survey about black on white relationships. I examined how it made people feel; what white men and white women thought of it as well as what black men and black women thought of it. It was not a scientific survey, but I interviewed over forty people and I came across the typical stereotype of anger over black men dating white women, but what I found especially interesting was the experience of many black women dating white men; interesting because it was barely addressed except in passing. I was struck by the similarity of this experience with black men dating white women, except this time it was on a more intense level.
The experience which stood out most was my interview with Patricia (*name has been changed.)
“Let me tell you a little more about my own experience,” she started. “At the corners of Queen and Broadway, Dufferin and Dundas, Yonge and Eglinton…wherever, whenever. No particular place. It always seemed to happen. On this particular day there I was walking confidently, a black woman, beautiful and bold, wearing one of those nice summer dresses. I was going to a restaurant to meet him. I was happy because I was in love.
I had been single for so long, so shunned by black men that for a while I was scared that at only 25 years I was doomed to be a spinster. But he had appeared out of nowhere and fallen for me. Not for my beauty or my body but for the real person inside me.
He was European. I need not describe him, as that just admitting that he was white was enough to cause a controversy, actually Madonna said it better, “causing a commotion”.
I am not exaggerating when I tell you that whenever I was with him we stopped traffic! I am talking about the black man traffic. The cars would maneuver in all sorts of awkward positions and all sorts of traffic misconducts and deregulations would be performed, as those heads would snap out of the windows, their eyes, piercing daggers, shouting betrayal at me. In some occasions they would actually holler all sorts of other associated things. They would look at me as if I was being disloyal to them and as if they owned me. Well on this specific day, his head dangling from his car, a brother yelled, ‘sister what are you doing? Aren’t we BLACK BROTHA’S fine enough for you?’ I was very astounded and insulted by this direct attack and my partner could not comprehend the animosity.
In some clubs they would find ways of making sure that they showed him that I was welcome but he was not. At other times they would stare at me rudely and very sexually in front of him as if he were not a man. I heard all sorts of disparaging remarks whispered behind his back about how I was wasting my booty on a white man and I did not know what I was missing. I was slammed with all sorts of names because of my freedom of choice. See as a woman, I was just looking for a person who loved me, was caring, respectful and made me feel appreciated and beautiful as a woman. I was not going to let something like colour stop me.
What I could not fathom was why before I had this gentle, loving man in my life these same men would walk past me on the street and even if I tried to just greet them as a sister they would look the other way. I could not understand why they would ignore me at clubs, why they did not see my value and worth at the work place or the few social gatherings which I attended. Why, when out of friendliness, I would try to start a conversation on the subway with a brother, it would in no time become a monologue. Why when I would try to have eye contact with them, I would get a very cold look in return as if I had committed an injustice. Why I had not been treated right by some brothers while I was still with them. Why the brothers I had dealt with had not striven harder to preserve me constantly in their lives. I may have stopped traffic a few times but not as much as I was now with a white male by my side. I mean even the brothers with white girlfriends were giving me attitude when their women were not looking and asking me what was wrong with me!
Jungle fever they call it.
Why was it bothering these brothers when they did not notice me before? Was it just hurting their male pride? Were they merely displaying shades of male chauvinism? Was it just manifesting jealousy that somebody from another race had beaten them to the race and was dating one of their ‘finer’ sisters? Did they really feel as if they were being betrayed? Did it have something to do with their common historic past and ancestry? Was it because they secretly, inwardly believed that black women belonged to them and had no right to date other races? Well it was fine for them to do it but when I did it, it was a crime?”
Jungle fever they call it.
That was Patricia’s experience but I found that it was common with many women in her position. She was frustrated because although she loved black men, she had been single for a long time. She said that when she was in a club with her girlfriends, many of these same men would ignore them and approach the white and Asian girls. So when her white boyfriend approached her one day and swept her off her feet, she did not hesitate. When I interviewed him, he said he had always liked black women but had always been scared of approaching them because he assumed that he would be rejected. But he had taken a chance with Patricia and had been rewarded. He pointed out that a lot of white guys were attracted to black women but did not dare approach because of the so called attitudinal reputation they had and also for fear of rejection. Black women have been slandered with malignant words like ‘attitude.’
Demographically, when it comes to the dating scene in Canada, it seems like the chances of getting a black man (who is not dating another woman) are slim. When you eliminate the brothers who are married, engaged, dating, not yet legal, in jail or on the down low, the statistics and mathematics of available brothers does not look good for black women. Black men are outnumbered several times over by white guys, let alone Asians. A brother who responded to the last article pointed this out,
“Roughly 7 in every 10 ladies of relevant dating age are white. It is the empirical population reality in Canada. The odds of a brother meeting and dating a white girl are pretty high therefore. It is straight mathematics. Unless he chooses and decides to restrict his dating to sisters, he is likely to be enthralled at some point, by a non-sister, more likely than not to be white.”
Don’t those statistics apply to black women too? If we are to believe that there are more women than men, it would mean that there is a relative scarcity of black men. That is unless African Canadian women moved to Africa or the Caribbean; where again we are told that the women outnumber the men. Still the chances are higher of snagging a back man. The tactics described above by Patricia are a strong way of discouraging black women from following their hearts and exploring their options. Why is it that black guys can do it, but when a sister does it, it’s the ultimate crime? As for the old song that black women were raped and mistreated by their white slave masters and should therefore hate all white men, let’s reconsider who sold them into slavery in the first place.
Black women have always had a lot of deterring obstacles throughout life and having brothers, as one of them is frustrating. But what is good for the goose is good for the gander. The jungle fever resolution is a verdict which black women may consciously take if desired. Who are we to judge their decisions? Isn’t freedom of choice one of the innate rights we have as humans? It requires strength, dedication, trust and love to endure and maintain any love relationship-no matter what colour the person is.
Jungle fever they call it.
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