It was the night when I felt most desirable. On the dance floor, in the damp heat of the evening, several girls danced around me in search of a slow. I was the only white to move from the pool to the track of this Nairobi nightclub. There were prostitutes and middle-class girls in the Kenyan capital around me. My skin color meant for them another life, money, prestige.
In a time of galloping globalization that profoundly transforms the African continent, there have probably never been so many “North-South” mixed couples south of the Sahara. Every year, tens of thousands of Westerners land in Guinea or Ethiopia for a job with an NGO, a mission in the oil sector, a cultural project …
In the other direction, the path is open – even if it is necessary to show more of a white leg – Ghanaian or Ivorian students join Paris to study on the benches of Sciences Po, Nigerian dancers fly to London, Integrate a ballet. There are many paths, countless stories. And in the middle, old as the world, love. Travels provoke encounters. One-night frolics, a holiday flirt or the beginning of a two-tier story.
Like Maxime, a travel guide who met Jesca, a tourist information agent in Tanzania. Or Florence, 27, volunteer in Saint-Louis in Senegal, who had the love at first sight for Aliou, 40 years and already married. But if amorous passion does not know borders, the poison of doubt sometimes interferes in these mixed couples composed of Westerners and Sub-Saharans. Sociologists have long remarked that heterogamy-the fact of seeking involuntarily a spouse in a social class or a country different from his-is a source of relatively rapid separation in couples.
“In the sociology of conjugality, we know that couples who stay together the shortest are also the most heterogeneous. The more socially distant the two are, the more likely they are that they will not last,” explains Dr. Altaïr Despres. Sociology and anthropology.
And there is no more heterogeneous than mixed couples composed of a sub-Saharan African and a Westerner. The cultural or economic gap is often very important. A serious obstacle for long-term relationships.
“The white woman becomes a business background”
Sociologist Beate Collet, who has been studying families and immigration for several years, draws up three large profiles of mixed couples.In the first case, these are African students who came to study in France and met their French white partner in the academic world. These couples have the same intellectual capital. Even if economically there is a gap due to their origins, the intellectual level of man may be a catalyst. Having studied in France, he is able to understand his wife’s milieu and the discussion can minimize misunderstandings. He himself can be an ambassador of his partner to his family so that the latter accepts it despite racial and cultural differences.
“He said to me” I love you “the first night,” I want to marry you “the first night, which was quite laughable at the time.
Clare, American expatriate in Zanzibar.
In a second case, they do not have the same economic capital, but there is a compensatory exchange where the African has a much higher level of education than that of Western women. One aspires to integrate European society through women. She, in turn, aspires to climb a social class.
Finally, there is a last model of mixed torque. The one where the sociological gap is yawning.
“It is this last profile that is in my opinion the most problematic, where there is not only an economic shift , but also an intellectual one , analyzes Beate Collet.You take someone who is idle in the country, By all the means to get out of it.For this person, the white woman becomes a bottom of trade.Unfortunately some have fallen in love and this is where there is a game of dupe.It is human, Black has neither work nor money, so he can not take a woman in the country and the white woman becomes the dream. “
Beach Boys in Conquest
This is the scenario that takes shape at every sunset on the white sandy beaches of the Zanzibar archipelago off Tanzania. Beach boys,local youngsters who hang out along the hotel bars that stand facing the ocean, dredge western women who are often older. The researcher Altaïr Despres has commented on these couples, which at first glance seem at odds with a university text entitled “Venues for beaches, which have remained for boys”.
Clare, a 43-year-old American, tells of her meeting with Chris, a Tanzanian his age.
“He was pretty much in it, as they are here, he said” I love you “the first night,” I want to marry you “the first night, which was pretty laughable at the time. I was sleeping with him [laughing] , which was the kind of thing I was doing at the time, not with everybody, but I was a free woman, I was traveling around the world and I practiced safe sex , and I said to myself: “ok, well, I like you, you love me so why not?” But there was a connection between us, from the start.
A story that resembles an idyll. But in many cases things get complicated quickly. “In Zanzibar, men who put up with white women are often marginalized who have few graduates who come from popular backgrounds, whereas the girls they meet are over-died, they are rather CSPs. Confides the sociologist Altaïr Despres.
After the beginning of a relationship where one does not really know the other and where the excitement takes over all the rest, a big cultural gap can quickly disorient. This is what Lise, a 22-year-old Frenchwoman, who during a study trip to Côte d’Ivoire to carry out research for her master’s thesis, began a romantic relationship with a dance teacher from 32 Years, Wilfried.
“The cultural gap was obvious because of the” disorientation “for me. It was my first time in Africa and I discovered new social practices, a more violent society and a lot of curiosity about me” , she says .
“On both sides of society there is a judgment”
Perhaps more than any other mixed couple, the couple between a Occidental and an African is obvious. Obviously, it arouses constant curiosity and interrogation. “Everything is contrary, because in addition to being inter-racial, sometimes inter-religious, it is also post-colonial. “Says sociologist Beate Collet.
Under these conditions, the couple must be much stronger if they want to survive. And each one, capable of distancing himself from his own prejudices. This is what is acknowledged in the filigree of Louis, Burkinabé, who is about to unite his life with that of Claire: “We regard this difference as a kind of mutual enrichment, so that misunderstandings and pride are sources If we do something that we do not like, or vice versa, we will talk calmly, explain things to ourselves so that this does not happen again in the future. “
“There are daily adjustments, understanding, codes … You learn every day, for example not to hold your hand in public, nor to kiss on the street, while it is possible To dance together relatively explicitly in a nightclub , “ says Florence, whose adventure with Wilfried ended after a few months.
Most couples who survive in the long term explain why it is necessary to invest more than in a “normal” history so that the love mayonnaise takes. Adriane, a 26-year-old Frenchwoman, has long been out with Eric, a Togolese student he met during his studies. She said: “We have to exchange a lot, in our case, we usually do it over the phone because we were not in the same city and we only saw each other on weekends or holidays.”
“There must be a convergence of interests: what can I bring to the other and receive from him in return”.
Beate Collet, sociologist
In some cases, the relationship is facilitated by the family origins, background and experience of each member of the couple. It was the case of Beatrice, 47 years old and her ex-lover Thomas: “The fact that he was in France for a long time, and I knew Africa well and especially his country, the cultural gap was not as Difficult to overcome even if it remained less open to French culture: its history, its art, its literature. “
But character and personality can also play an important role in the stability of the couple. Adriane justifies the failure of her relationship by the coldness of Eric:
“He let little of his feelings show me, I needed attention, to be pampered, pampered by my guy, and he almost did not realize it.
Problems that are not specific to the mixed couple of course. For sociologist Beate Collet, the most important question is whether the interests of one converge with those of the other. Relying on the theory of compensatory exchange, she argues that “to the extent that there is no disinterested relationship, love alone can not be enough to keep the couple alive. : What can I bring to the other and receive from him in return “.
This sociological theory developed from Robert Merton ‘ s notion of compensatory hypogamy (1941) is based on the idea that marriage is above all a system of exchange. School case of the time, the union between a black and rich young American man and a young middle-class white woman. The young black person acquired social capital by integrating Western society, while his white partner in return enjoyed economic capital.
The hunting of the toubab
But the efforts of one and the other sometimes face an invisible wall, especially for the white woman who is said to “love you” from the first night and wonders if the declared love is sincere.
“In mixed couples” North-South “, I would instinctively say that there are more white women than the opposite, notes the anthropologist Altaïr Despres, who lived several months in Zanzibar . The women who seek an intimate relationship with a girl will fall to 99% on a prostitute, in a nightclub, in a bar. . “
Doubt does not capture all the stories. But there is.
“The image of Europe and its wealth is present in the minds of some people, and history and television still convey too many images of a rich Europe, and yes,” hunting for toubabs ” To a marriage, to papers or to Europe , “explains Florence, who has experienced more painful experiences in St. Louis, so I closed to meeting and discussing for a while. System, defining profiles sometimes reductive from the way to speak, to consume. “
Maxime’s couple with Jesca, a tourist information agent in Tanzania, also banged up against the unspoken.
“The picture is hard to draw up like that, but there were a lot of headaches. Especially when there were family solicitations for help, to pay for the brothers or sisters, hospital fees “There is no abuse, it is that the needs are immense,” he said.
He goes on: ” Of course I asked myself if she was with me because I was white and French, and she said it herself, the white thing, the Métis child, She would be proud of it, etc. It is extremely cynical on both sides because we know it, but we still believe it, there are moments that have made us feel that it was healthy.
An ambiguity that exists, but that many choose to go beyond in order to fully live their history in pairs. In Zanzibar there is a Western woman who said to me: “I will never know if he is there for the money, if he deceives me, but I find my account in this relationship.” In the end, I am happy with him, he fills me when he is with me and I do not want to know more, “ concludes Altaïr Despres.