12.30.2010

More on Nigerian Perceptions and Interracial Relationships

Earlier this week, I came across some nice pictures on the theme of China in Benin. The pictures were great (and also featured a Blasian family) with some commentary. Each week I see something that can be classified as 'China in Africa'; a Chinese infant playing with some girls at a children's party two weeks ago, a Chinese couple singing a song on a cruise yesterday...back to the pictures however what struck me as an African woman, was that there were no Beninese women in the pictures. I was tempted to conclude that this was due to the fields of interest, such as construction, there are not that many female construction workers but then I realised that it wasn't good enough. Anyway this set some wheels turning and I'm back to write some more on Nigerian female perceptions of Asian men.

I can go on about my family and friends whom I place in two categories, those who've spent their whole lives in Nigeria and those, like me, who have spent a sizeable amount of time in other countries. While the former tend to be quick to say they'd never date a man who didn't belong to their ethnic group, the latter are usually more open and in some cases have been in relationships with Asian men at some point in their lives, they tend not to restrict interracial relationships to just white men. This is not inclusive though, I have a friend who has spent most of her life in UK and the USA but still insists on dating only Yoruba men.

Nevertheless, I've decided to call upon one form of media to further elaborate. I'd like to bring in a particular film from Nollywood which can be used to catch a glimpse into the mainstream Nigerian mentality. I've written about this movie on my blog, it is called White Hunters and is both sexist and racist particularly in its depiction of Asians. Then again Nollywood is not known for being politically correct (I mean movies still stereotype based on ethnic group). I'm bringing White Hunters back on this blog, it has been ages since I watched the movie but it is still fascinating to me due to the ideas behind it.

White Hunters is about Nigerian women who are just so desperate for ‘white’ men that they’d do anything and I mean anything. Quick note; to most Nigerians as long as you don’t have brown/black skin, you are white. So Chinese, Arabs, Indians, Indonesians, children with one Black parent and one non-Black parent, basically everyone else who isn't black African is white. Here's a quick summary of the plot from what I wrote earlier with a few edits;
Tabitha is a woman who has several ‘white’ men wrapped around her finger. She is not interested in Nigerian men because she wants easy access to (her husband’s) money and to travel abroad. In order to achieve this Tabitha first marries one white man and travels to Paris with him and after four years returns to Nigeria with another man as her husband (a second husband) who just happens to be white as well. Pamela is Tabitha’s best friend, at least she was until Tabitha got married and left for Europe. Pamela is the true embodiment of a woman desperate for a white man. After having her heart broken by a Nigerian man who deceived her telling her that he was going to marry her when he actually had another woman as his fiancee Pamela concludes that all black men are useless and that to be truly happy she must marry a white man.

However Pamela is having difficulties attracting a white man and relies on Tabitha to hook her up with one of her many white male friends, when Tabitha doesn’t do this and instead openly mocks and embarrasses Pamela with her crew of friends (all married to ‘white’ men), Pamela resorts to extreme measures to get a white man. Elsie was Pamela and Tabitha’s mate in secondary school but had to go to the village to take care of an ailing parent after school. Because of this, she is very ‘bush’ or unrefined in her ways and is brought to the city by Pamela who makes it her mission to ‘refine’ her and introduce her into the world of ‘white’ men.

Elsie is the ONLY woman in this film that made sense, she was the only person who said things like ‘I don’t see what’s so special about the white men you are chasing’ and so of course, she was the only one who actually got a white man in the end. The most hilarious character is Peggy who is a secondary school drop out, an illiterate who believes that it is better for her to be with a white man who doesn’t understand English as her previous relationships with upper class Nigerian men have gone sour because she lacks an education and can’t read. Peggy comes to live with Pamela and Elsie when her boyfriend kicks her out of the house after she walks out on him during a party to sleep with a white man (it is actually more complicated than this).

I said the movie was racist and this is due to it's portrayal of Indian and Chinese men. The character, Peggy goes on a date with an Indian man who is shown as dirty and smelly because of that stereotype that Indians smell because they eat garlic. The Chinese man is stingy and that's another stereotype attached to Asians here, that they like money too much and hold on to purse strings a little too tightly.

This is a movie that aims at shaming Nigerian women who are relationships with men who are not black or Nigerian. If we move out of Nollywood and into lived experiences, the difference is not that clear and is actually very blurred. There is nothing special about the movie as people do actually believe that Nigerian women in relationships with non-Nigerian men are desperate for money and are prostitutes. As mentioned in my earlier write up on this movie, I have a Nigerian friend who worried about bringing her European boyfriend here, 'So people would think I'm a prostitute?' When it comes to Nigerian women in relationships with Asian men it becomes; 'She was so desperate she couldn't find a white man so she ran to a chinko.'

I watched the movie, White Hunters, in my cousin's house with her husband and his brother. The brother who works with Chinese expatriates in Lagos said out loud that what they portrayed in the movie was true. According to him, his Chinese coworkers always ask him when public holidays are and mark the dates on their calendars because they like going out. 'Of course they like it when all these Nigerian girls will chase after them in the clubs.' I recently saw a comment somewhere online on how Chinese men look at local Kenyan women 'salaciously'.

Another interesting point is that this sort of view does not seem to be held by only Nigerians. I remember talking with a very close friend from China who told me that she has seen a Chinese man married to a black South African woman while in China. She met the couple on a train somewhere and got talking with the man. Our conversation was cool until she said that she felt there was a sinister reason behind the couple's marriage. She felt the African woman was very ugly and went on to describe the way the woman looked which to me sounded very normal.

In my confusion, I remember asking my friend, 'So...if you saw me with a Chinese man, would you think we were together for dubious reasons?' to which she replied easily and confidently, 'Well that's different because you're cute.' I still cannot get that conversation out of my mind, and it has been a year. I wonder if the same thing can be said in Nigeria, that a woman is not desperate for money if they oyinbo ('foreign' in Nigerian pidgin) man she's with is handsome. I found this fascinating and I still do.

With all this in mind, it sort of makes sense that Nigerian women are closed to these sort of relationships especially when they take their culture as paramount. While I accept that love happens regardless of people's perceptions or whatever, I also know that if something is not given a chance it would never grow.

16 comments:

  1. OMG! I'll going to reread this when I return from the countryside and respond thoughtfully. There is so much to SAY. It's a wonder people still have the gall to constantly point out our differences when it's so crystal clear that we are miserably the same, especially in our prejudices.

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  2. "After having her heart broken by a Nigerian man who deceived her telling her that he was going to marry her when he actually had another woman as his fiancee Pamela concludes that all black men are useless and that to be truly happy she must marry a white man."

    This theme is so common in many BWE/IR blogs I used to read. It's not even funny.

    "Our conversation was cool until she said that she felt there was a sinister reason behind the couple's marriage. She felt the African woman was very ugly and went on to describe the way the woman looked which to me sounded very normal."

    I've heard some out here with that mentality as well. The 'logic' usually being that the 'ugly' partner wants 'pretty' children, hence the relationship. *eye roll* If the man is the 'ugly' one, then he MUST be rich. *'nother eye roll*

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  3. @Hateya

    I'll wait for your comment impatiently! Have a great time at the countryside.

    @leoprincess

    I've heard some out here with that mentality as well. The 'logic' usually being that the 'ugly' partner wants 'pretty' children, hence the relationship. *eye roll* If the man is the 'ugly' one, then he MUST be rich. *'nother eye roll*

    From the tone of my friends conversation, I think she felt it had to do with money. If it was just pretty children I wouldn't mind but she didn't point out that the Chinese husband was handsome. She told me how the couple spent 6 months each year in China and in South Africa because they had problems acquiring a visa and I initially thought that was a testament to the strength of their relationship but I guess she saw things differently. She was the one who encountered them though.

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  4. "With all this in mind, it sort of makes sense that Nigerian women are closed to these sort of relationships especially when they take their culture as paramount."

    I have to push back on that statement a bit. Most relationships, including dating and marriage, have to do with the types of people you are exposed to based a number of factors (education, socio-economic, geography, language, etc.). Just because a Nigerian woman takes her culture as paramount does not mean she is closed to dating outside of her tribe. My mom and her friends set me up on multiple dates with Yoruba men who either 1) didn't realize they were African or 2) had no interest in anything related to Africa. My decision to marry a white American does not mean I value my culture any less. On the contrary, my husband actually embraces Yoruba culture more warmly than many Nigerian men (and realtives) I know. He puts away jollof rice, pounded yam (he uses his hands no fork!), dodo, stew, chin chin, and moi moi like nobody's business! And no handshakes from him, he knows how to properly greet and prostrate. We have taught him well!

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  5. @Tinu

    I have to push back on that statement a bit...My decision to marry a white American does not mean I value my culture any less.

    I'm sorry if I implied that women who value their culture somehow don't date interracially because I didn't mean that at all. Look at me, I've displayed my ethnic group in my username and I constantly go on and on about African culture, traditions and history yet here I am on the Blasian Narrative.

    I realise I should have chosen different words but women usually bring up culture as their reason for not dating interracially. Tbh even now I can't think of how to rephrase that sentence, I guess instead of culture I could have used 'what society dictates' as paramount?

    Most relationships, including dating and marriage, have to do with the types of people you are exposed to based a number of factors (education, socio-economic, geography, language, etc.).

    I guess personality also matters, for example the friend who insists on dating only Yoruba men is like my twin when it comes to education, socio-economic class, language, not religion though and we see the world with very different lenses.

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  6. @eccentricyoruba
    I think I understand what you're getting at, although sometimes I think people use "culture" as a front for the deeper, more complex reasons. So instead of dealing with the person right in front of us we end up painting really inaccurate pictures of entire groups of people, as you pointed out so well in reference to that movie (and I'm PRAYING my parents don't own that one...)

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  7. @ Tinu

    Welcome!

    I think I understand what you're getting at, although sometimes I think people use "culture" as a front for the deeper, more complex reasons.

    Co-sign. In fact, I believe I once said something similar...almost a year ago, now that I think about it.

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  8. @ Ankhesen Mié
    Thank you for sending that link. HILARIOUS!

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  9. Hi there!

    Very insightful series of posts, eccentricyoruba! Thank you for sharing this! It's highly interesting how certain societies view other groups and hearing Nigerian (and Kenyan and South African) viewpoints from a Nigerian is highly valuable due to the lack of information.

    I do have questions, though. You have explained some of the stereotypes that are associated with various kinds of Asian men; but I am curious which group of Asians are perceived as attractive and suitable to marry? Are Asian men perceived as attractive, at all? Are Asian considered more desirable than their counterparts as we see in the West?

    Do these perceptions and stereotypes differ very much depending on the Asian group? I mean, are Chinese men and people seen differently in relation to attractiveness compared to Indians from India? Just curious.

    Thanks!

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  10. I missed a word in the post above. I meant, "Are Asian women considered more desirable than their counterparts as we see in the West?"

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  11. @Tinu

    Very well said!

    @Ani

    Thanks for your kind words and your questions! ^^

    ...but I am curious which group of Asians are perceived as attractive and suitable to marry?

    To the best of my knowledge, NONE. I believe perceptions of Asians here is very much influenced by Western media. So yes there is this idea that 'Chinese' (and this is used to refer to all East and Southeast Asian) men are emasculated, short and ugly.

    I really can't speak for everybody however, this is the popular perception based on my experiences. Like I said above the only people I know who have been open to relationships with Asian men are friends from secondary school who went on to school abroad. We watched a lot of wuxia while in school, the rest obviously has to do with personalities.

    Are Asian men perceived as attractive, at all?

    The answer to this will be negative as well. Some people will tell me 'why do you think Asian men are attractive when they are so ugly? I saw one man yesterday...' To be fair, a lot of the Asians I see in Abuja are much older men, I've seen one young Chinese man who was very attractive and heard of several hot Korean men moving around the place. Apparently the handsome young men must be hiding somewhere. Even when I go out clubbing, it's only old men.

    One time I showed my friend pictures of K-pop male idols just so she could see that I'm not delusional and she actually said that all of them were 'not fine'. Even Rain! My cousins have had that same reaction. But I really believe if they saw more positive images things will make an about-turn.

    The cousin that works in the Korean cultural centre initially thought all Koreans were ugly because the men she worked with were not handsome but as she spent more time there and in the company of young Korean men, her thinking changed.

    While people can easily talk about how beautiful Indian women are (Bollywood is quite popular here), you won't hear the same about Indian men or both men and women from East or SE Asia.

    Are Asian women considered more desirable than their counterparts as we see in the West?

    Hmm, I don't know about this one. A few Nigerian men have blatantly told me they do not find Asian women attractive then again when I encounter Nigerians who have Asian heritage, the Indian or Filipino parent is almost always the mother. Just last week while in Ghana, I met a Ghanaian man with his Japanese wife.

    Do these perceptions and stereotypes differ very much depending on the Asian group?

    Yes they are. See what I said above about most Asian men here being old (though that seems to be changing) and Bollywood. I believe in the power of the media because I've seen it in action and I feel that Nigerians and other West Africans may be more receptive towards Indians because they feel they know something of Indian culture.

    For example, I was on a cruise (in Ghana again) a few weeks ago and there was a big show that had Indians, Chinese and Nigerians coming on stage to sing a song from their respective cultures. I noticed the Chinese woman that sang only got a mild applause but when the Indians got on stage, there was a deafening roar. As soon as the Indians started singing, several people got up to dance with them. I almost felt bad for the tepid applause given to the Chinese.

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  12. @EccentricYoruba,

    Forgive me for the lateness of this comment. When something touches me, for better or for worse, I reflect upon it for a very long time. In this case, I've again found myself profoundly disappointed in human beings. No matter where we go, folks are the same. I don't know why so many people nitpick over the handful of ways humans are different when they ought to recognize just how ridiculously alike we are.

    White Hunters

    When I read the recap of this movie, it made me sick to my soul. The thought that women actually feel this level of desperation tears at my core. Sickening is the only word I can use to describe nausea that churned in my stomach while I read.

    'Well that's different because you're cute.'

    In a year, let's check to see if either of us has forgotten it. WTF?!

    Much of what I wish to say should be discussed in email because it will surely go off on a tangent as large as the Pacific Ocean. When a longstanding perception is completely decimated, it takes awhile to recover. :(

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  13. Much of what I wish to say should be discussed in email because it will surely go off on a tangent as large as the Pacific Ocean.

    I'd really love to read that email!

    When a longstanding perception is completely decimated, it takes awhile to recover. :(

    I'm sorry for whatever role I played in that :(

    It would have been easy to discount the movie as not being serious or reflecting society except the more I learn about Nollywood, the more I see that it is supposed to be teaching us 'African morals' and reflecting life as lived by the African masses.

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  14. Out of boredum I watched this movie. The only good thing I gained from watching it was that I was introduced to "Yori Yori." It's catchy. Other than that........









    ......just no.

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  15. @EccentricYoruba,

    I'm sorry for whatever role I played in that :(

    Please don't feel this way. I'm glad I wrote and told you why I had this impression.

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  16. @EccentricYoruba

    I don't have any insightful or cool to say, but I just wanted to let you know I thought this was a great post. It really got me thinking about how even within interracial relationships there are stereotypes about the men and women that participate in them. It also made me reflect on how much things have changed on the interracial front as well as what hasn't changed.

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