Dashiki Dialogues: Endogamy and reverse jungle fever

2014-03-05 10:00

A picture of British-Nigerian actor Chiwetel Ejiofor’s popped up on a female friend’s Facebook profile during the week.

I noticed quickly it was not a jovial celebration of the 36-year-old’s recent Bafta win for best actor, an honour he captured for his lead role in 12 Years a Slave. The picture showed was of a bushy bearded Ejiofor on the red carpet with his model girlfriend Sari Mercer.

Now, my friend is one of the loud, proud, hand-on-the-hip type of black woman. Naturally, her post sparked my curiosity. She accompanied the image of the couple with a disproving caption: “Urgh!” – which was uncharacteristically subtle.

It was fascinating to learn she was one of those black women who frown upon the idea of successful black men marrying across the racial divide. I had thought this was a dated gripe the likes of Tokyo Sexwale’s love life had helped resolve.

Besides, 20 years into democracy, we can’t still be hung up on restrictions once governed by petty apartheid laws like the Immorality Act.

Though it may not be so flippant to ask whether black men have some kind of moral duty to marry black women – what smart people call “endogamy”. The simple answer by an average liberal to that question should be clear “no”. People should do as their hearts desire on these matters.

But as a Trinidadian scholar puts it, the particularities of this question should not be confused with its more broader variant: do all people have a duty to marry within their race, ethnicity and so on. It should be seen differently, too, from black women married to white men.

The asymmetries of our sexist world and the ideological symbolism of marriage couple with property considerations to justify endogamy against Ejiofor’s kind of “reverse jungle fever”. Especially so since men are the ones who do the approaching in marital affairs.

Now in another time and place, like antebellum America for instance, the talented Ejiofor would have been lynched at first breath for “reckless eyeballing”, let alone dating lovely miss Mercer. Just as her parents would have had their good faith as antiracist challenged by relenting to his advances on their daughter.

But my feisty friend buys into the idea that there aren’t enough good brothers to go round.

Socioeconomics and the liberation imperatives colour her dashiki in this dialogue with race and the laws of love.

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