By Timothy Bukumunhe
IT IS an argument that has been raging for a while. Is it okay for a white woman to go out with a black man and vice versa? In Uganda, it all started in the 1950â€™s and 1960â€™s when a good crop of Ugandans went abroad especially to the UK for further education.
In that era, getting into the UK was as easy as walking into Uchumi Supermarket to buy a kilo of sugar.
On top of that, there were plenty of jobs going â€” jobs that were deemed unfit for British citizens to do, so they handed them down to the migrant labour from the West Indies, Ireland and to Commonwealth nations.
In the course of staying in the UK, black men started going out with white women, a move that did not go down too well with the citizens of the host nation. It was frowned upon for a white woman to date a black or somebody from Ireland.
In Uganda though, the mood was different. â€œMany people were curious when I returned to Uganda in the 1960s with a white wife,â€ says Robert, an engineer who lives in London.
â€œWhilst my parents did not approve, they did not go on and on about it. They were more curious about her skin and what she could and couldnâ€™t do.
In the village, the entire village would sit round her and see if she could peel matooke or go down the well and balance a pot of water on her head.
They would giggle and laugh when they saw the look on her face after she had been presented with a plate of white ants to eat. Then, it was all clean, not like it is today,â€ he adds.
And Robert is right. Today, for a black woman to date a white man or for a black man to date a white woman means having a hidden agenda. That hidden agenda usually means money.
The first thing that springs to peopleâ€™s minds when people see a black woman dating a white man is that she is a prostitute. If she is not a prostitute, then she is a scheming gold digger.
Other thoughts are that the women are hoping that they will get to go and live abroad with him when his contract ends.
Susan is a successful 32-year-old auditor with one of the prestigious audit firms in Kampala.
During the course of her work, she met David from the World Bank who was attached to a project in Uganda.
â€œDavid came from New York and he was a real New Yorker â€” very loud and arrogant, but in a nice way. I did not find him particularly attractive but was impressed by his dedication and attention to his work.
A year elapsed before I started having any romantic thoughts about him. When the relationship started, we kept it a secret, primarily because we did not want to become the talk of the office.
And even then, I had not given any thought to the fact that he was white or what the consequences would be. It is only when we came out of the closet that I discovered it was a whole new world,â€ she narrates.
â€œFor close to six months I was miserable, scared and kept on wondering whether the relationship was worth it. Having my hair braided was something I could not do anymore.
â€œEvery time we stopped in Kabalagala to do some shopping, I got stares. And those stares read: â€˜A malaya (prostitute) with a white manâ€™.
When real prostitutes saw me with him, they would approach him and tell him that they were better than me in bed and they could do things to him I could not do sexually.
â€œEven when we went to upmarket places like the Sheraton, people would still look at me and think I am a high class call girl even when I went to great lengths to dress like a nun.
And the people of my academic and social standing were not different either. At high society functions, I would still get that odd look of disapproval from a judge, a banker or from the wife of a well-respected politician.â€
Pausing for a while, she also wonders how Doris Akidi managed the stares and talk when Sigurd Illing, the former head of delegation of the European Union, threw out his wife in favour of her (Akidi).
But Susan is not alone in having to contend with the hardships of dealing with dating a white man. Rachael, on the other hand, was fresh out of Nkumba University when she met James, an American who was working on the construction of the American Embassy in Nsambya.
Says Rachel: â€œJames was much older than me. I was 22 and he was almost 50. To make things even worse, he looked like somebody nearing 70. James was not my type. First, he was white and secondly, he looked like somebody ready to pick up his pension. But he had charm and wit.
He was also thoughtful, generous and kind. Before I knew it, I had fallen under his spell. The reactions I got from my friends were that of horror.
Everybody thought I was going out with him for the money. My male friends called him jajja (grandfather), while my parents got a gold medal for the fit they threw! It was difficult to go out with him alone because of the looks we got.
One evening we were standing outside Standard Chartered Bank when a Pajero pulled up. As it slowed down, the occupants shouted out â€˜malayaâ€™ before they sped off.
The whole street turned around and looked at me. I was so embarrassed that I started to cry.â€
Unable to deal with the taunting, a few months later, Rachael broke off her romance with James.
But when it comes to black men dating white women, it is a different scenario. â€œThere is a sexual connotation to a black man dating a white woman,â€ says Henry who works for an advertising firm. â€œThat connotation is all about black men supposedly being more than well-endowed compared to the white man.
When you go to Ange Noir, all those rasta looking chaps on the ground floor want to have sex with a white woman. They believe that white women are different from black women in bed.
What they sadly do not know, is that they are the same as black women and the only thing that is different is that they are white.
He goes on to add that it is the same for the white man dating the black woman. â€œIn the 1970â€™s, the American actress Pam Grier achieved an almost cult status. She was the woman every man, especially white men, wanted to sleep with.
For white guys, sleeping with a black woman is the ultimate jungle experience â€” a sort of Tarzan conquering a black Jane in the depths of the African jungle.â€
â€œUnless the black man is a kid and the white woman is 50-plus, people will stare at them,â€ argues Paul, who works for a telecom company.
â€œGenerally people here do not disapprove of a brother going out with a white woman. With a white man and black woman, it is nothing to lose sleep over. When my brother started going out with a white woman who was a good ten years older than him, nobody was bothered.
All my parents asked is if he knew what he was doing. The only problem he had was dealing with those rastas. Whenever they went out, the moment he got up to go to the washroom, a rasta would spring out of nowhere trying to chat her up.â€
But even white men and women face a certain degree of criticism from their own when they date black men or women. Bob (not real names), a junior diplomat with the European Union, says his former head of mission, Illing, has made things that much difficult for white men.
â€œWhite women are wary of black women these days. They figure that if Illing can leave his wife for a young black woman, then it can happen to them too. They feel uncomfortable when they see their men talking to black women at cocktail parties.
When a trip up-country is called for, the wives often call me to find out who of the local staff will be on the trip. If it is a woman who is good looking they will do anything to get her off the trip.â€
On the other hand, white women dating black men are not frowned upon if the man is successful and both belong to the same age bracket.
As for the white girl and the rasta man, most people assume it is about exploration, smoking dope and listening to Bob Marely music before they return home and find a good white man to marry and settle down.