Friday, May 2, 2008

It dont matter if you're black or white

Yesterday a bunch of us Toubab girls went to this secluded pool resort in St Louis called Ranch de Bango. Normally, obvious shi-shi European toubab places like this turn me off but, frankly, we all had to escape the racism we have been experiencing. It's interesting to note that all of us are expressing the sentiment that we've had it up to here with the comments and obvious racial remarks.
Let me preface this by saying that the racism we experience is NOTHING compared to the virulent hatred that exists between races elsewhere in the world (ahem. Milwaukee). I cannot complain, but I need to vent.

Yes, racism against us is real, and we're getting a little fed up with the comments such as, ¨You're from America! Marry me and take me there!¨, ¨Yangy lekk sa xalis.¨ (Literally, You are eating your money. Figuratively, you're doing well), ¨Hello. How are you. Do you want a Senegalese husband?¨, ¨Why dont you speak Wolof well? Waw, you dont understand anything!¨, ¨You dont want an African boyfriend? What, are you racist?¨

Example: My sweet friend Magueye and I went on an adventure downtown, and he bought a sandwich and the guy stuck his hand out to me to pay for Magueye. Mags was more offended than I was.
Example: One of my toubab girlfriends went to the beach with her Senegalese friend and the taxi driver charged them 4 times the normal amount because she's white. When her friend contested the price, the taximan refused to back down because he said that all Toubabs have money.
Example: My friend Birame told us that there is a group of students here on campus that think us toubabs are spies! No lie! He said that they approached him after they saw us together at the Resto. Because, why would a ¨rich¨ American want to come to Senegal, unless they had ulterior motives?
Example: My friend Stephanie was trying to buy something at a boutique, but the owner was ignoring her and serving everyone else who was pushing their way in front of her. She was so fed up, after months of this behavior that she snapped and started yelling at the Senegalese that ¨this is why Africa is so underdeveloped! You don't respect each other!¨ Wolof.
Example: In a taxi 2 days ago, I asked the taximan a question in Wolof and the other people in the taxi were surprised that I spoke the language, so we started chatting. When a different guy (a University student) got in the cab, he said to one of the guys in Wolof ¨You're chatting with your xonq nopp, huh?¨ Xonq nopp means ¨red ear¨and it is the equivalent to the N-word in English. The guy I had been chatting with got really embarrassed and said ¨Uhh...she understands Wolof, man¨. Awkward silence.
Example: Sitting on a bench outside my friend Freddy's room on campus, a middle-aged man asked him in Wolof, ¨May ma sa jabar.¨¨...¨Give me your wife.¨Then the guy asks me if he can bring me home to meet his daughter because shes afraid of toubabs. If I could just go home and meet her, because she's always complaining that she doesnt know what white people are like. Sweet Freddy was livid, ¨She's not an animal in a zoo to be examined! What? Pretty soon people are gonna throw pieces of fruit at you! Do you prefer apples or bananas?¨Then he starts reeming the guy out for raising his daughter in ignorance. He just about lost it, though, when the guy started taking pictures of me from all angles with his camera phone. It was funny and sad at the same time.
Example: One of Megan's friends proposed to her the other night, saying, if you take care of the VISA paperwork, we can tear it up when we get to America and I'll let you go free.

etc. Sigh.

Granted many comments are said in good fun, but once they've been repeated for the zillionth time, they get old. They stopped being funny in November. Maren's friend argued that it is just the uneducated Senegalese who act racist like this...but no, the educated elite university students are sometimes the worst!

And I wont even go into how the West is blamed for all the underdevelopment in Africa, in almost every single one of my classes. (I slightly agree, but it is taken too far). But at the same time, the West is also blamed for not helping with all the underdevelopment. Racism against the occident is ingrained in the educational system. The humanities are centered around colonialism and decolonization and their effects. The French are pretty much hated here by the Senegalese, because of the colonial history.

Joking between races is perfectly acceptable here in Senegal. Example: ¨Oh you're Jola? The Jola's are the slaves of the Pull!¨, ¨I cant have dinner with you, Serrer, cause your kind just eats everything in sight.¨, ¨Watch out for that Wolof, he'll steal everything you have.¨ In America, this would be completely unacceptable. But here, pejorative terms are thrown around like rice at a wedding, and nobody bats an eye. And they wonder why there are so many ethnic conflicts.'s all just getting to be a bit much. However, It is a strange privilege to be able to understand this on a personal level, so that I can apply the lesson elsewhere. Needless to say, sometimes I just have to get away and sit in a pool with people who understand. These toubabs have been my sanity.


Anonymous said...

Wow, Cath. I have to say, this may have been one of my favorite of your deeper, life-lesson posts. It almost pains me to say this, but it kind of makes me GLAD to see and hear about all of that in another country. Somehow it comforts me and makes me realize that even though the good ol' U.S.A. is a melting pot with the ingredients all trying to beat up the other ones, we're not the only ones who deal with it. I wonder how it would feel to be the minority for once? You'll have to let me know.

I love you, and I am proud of how strong you've become, and how wise you will be.


Anonymous said...

wow, i can't believe how ethno-centric you are, even after immersing yourself in another culture, you fail to acknowledge your privilege. It is not that you are an American in Senegal. You have a different relationship to power -- you are from the only superpower in the world. why is this so hard for you to get? i hope that don't come back from this trip as close-minded as you come off in this blog.

Angel said...

Espero que se encuentren muy bien en Africa!!!
Sigan adelante en sus Metas no se dejen intimidar por nada ni nadie.
Muchas Suerte y Bendiciones.
Angel Gonzalez (Fort,Lauderdale. Florida)

xenobiologista said...

People who post negative anonymous comments are jerks and cowards, by the way.

I sympathize. That's a lot worse and more frequent than the occasional "do you live in trees" redneck type of questions I get here in the USA, and it's obviously a big strain to deal with that on a daily basis.

I have to disagree with you that joking about cultural/ethnic characteristics is in and of itself a bad thing. Sometimes jokes are malicious, but sometimes they're an acknowledgement that, hey, we're different and that really can be funny on occasion. Between friends it's OK. From someone being cruel to a person who can't argue back, it's racism. (I WILL punch the next American who says Chinese eat dogs though. That's gotten real old.)

Have patience...and I'm glad you're enjoying other aspects of your time in Senegal.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous comment #2:

Have you been outside the US for more than a year? Do you have any experience that gives you the authority to say that?

And it is not just our dear blogger here that feels that way - apparently the feeling is shared by a majority of the ladies that are with her. In a sample size that big, it is most likely that it is a real problem, not just one closed mind.

xenobiologista said...

Steve! Don't you start with the anonymous comments either!

Anonymous said...

I can also relate; my last month in Senegal I got EXTREMELY bitter. The contrast between the terenga and how everyone is like, donne moi donne moi, REALLY started to piss me off. I told myself, and i did a good job of it, that it was going to be radically different and I wasnt going to be judgmental, but when you're there for that long, stuff starts to get to you. I agree, annonymous #2; Clearly you havent experienced it. Also having my loser senegalese boyfriend assume that we were going to get married and have kids. thats an entirely different story/rant, but yeah, that actually happened.

I still left senegal absolutely loving it; its natural for stuff to get to you. keep living it up, unfortunatly, it does come to an end.

~Karista G.