‘Hey White Man!’ is something I hear a lot as I walk the streets of Liberia. I’m not unfamiliar with these kinds of calls from living a year in Ethiopia to the calls of ‘Ferenji!’, or Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania ‘Muzungu!’ or in South Sudan ‘Kawaja!’ and I know there are many other versions of ‘foreigner’ in many other countries.
For the first few weeks after arriving in these situations I’m fine with it and often a call out is given with a cheeky smile, but it soon turns into frustration and annoyance for me and I largely ignore it and the people yelling out at me.
I know where this calling out comes from, they are excited to see a foreigner and it is fun and a laugh for them to call out ‘Hey White Man!’, but it is not just that one kid, teenage boy or immature man that says it, it is each one of them in the span of kilometres of walking, as I love to do everyday.
I don’t want to be given attention for the colour of my skin or for simply being different to everyone else on the street. I just want to walk down the street.
Don’t worry folks this isn’t a poor white man story! It is a small reality and one I have to choose to live with when I come to these countries and decide to walk the streets.
What it has taught me, and many times before, is what it might be like for women in any country (except maybe a few?) to walk down the street where males jeer, call out, whistle, make sounds or objectify them in some way.
For me the calling out is temporary when I choose to be in certain parts of the world and decide to walk the streets, but women can’t easily choose to not be a woman and have to live with this their entire lives.
Fellas, enough eh… Surely we can be respectful, mature and honour our women of the world without calling out and do it in a more meaningful, respectful and considerate way or in the least keep it to yourself.
Ladies, on behalf of the males who feel they need to call out, I’m sorry. I have a little window into what it must be like to receive this usually unwanted and certainly unneeded attention in this way!
Lastly it is usually so easy to know when someone is going to call out and the kind of men and boys who will do it. It is almost always when there are groups of around 4 or more males and the big mouth of the group will always something, often just after passing them like a scared dog does and rarely in the moment where there might be eye contact. It is rarely an older man (maybe because he has learnt how stupid it is) and very rarely is it a female because I’m sure in general they have more respect than that.
I’m not going to be stopping any or many of ‘Hey White Man’ calls here in Liberia with this blog but I do hope it is seen as an attempt to feel some of the frustration of women and men they have to put up with who don’t know how to behave with respect. This is why there is a campaign of #metoo and Global Goal #5 for every country to work towards gender equality.