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Living While White in The Gambia

Mar 09 –Mar 22, 2022
sheona murray

Ironically, Blacks living in majority White countries often give Scotland native Sheona Murray the blues about her living in Africa. She recalls one Gambian, born and raised in Spain, but now living in the United Kingdom, shouting at her, “White people should not be in Gambia.”

On making the West African nation her home, Murray says before meeting her best friend in the United Kingdom who was Gambian, she “had never heard of Gambia before.” One year when looking for a place to go on holiday, her friend invited her to visit her family compound in Latrikunda German, a suburb of Banjul, the capital city. It became more than a place to stay; it is where she met her future son.

“The other children stayed away from me and was frightened,” she says about her arrival to the compound in Western Gambia. Her future son was the only child that came to her. “He climbed on my knee,” she offered smiling. His biological mother was young and really not ready to be a mother.

After a couple of trips between The Gambia and her former colonial master, the family decided she would live in the compound and raise the child, but the family would teach him their ethnic Jolla customs and traditions.

More than a decade has passed since her first arrival to Africa’s Smiling Coast and there are times she misses things such as having a washing machine. “I have come to realize how hard it is for African women,” she says.  And there are times she gets lonely as family talk is often in Wolof, though they are Jolla. “I can now understand more Wolof, than I can speak,” she adds.

After twelve years living in The Gambia, she met her partner, a Gambian. “There are so many interracial couples here, nobody bothers,” she affirmed. Nevertheless, interracial marriages come with their unique expectations from others, for instance, she says people often think all White people are rich and the husband has access to the White partner’s wealth. "They think he is rich and the locals will start asking him for money,” she laughs.

People also often assume the Gambian is after the White person’s money or a passport to The West. “He owns his own business and has an American green card,” so those thoughts doesn’t affect our relationship she says.

However, Gambia is known as a place where even working-class White women come to find young, Black men to turn off their lights at night.  And, she admits, “usually it’s the White woman who has to pay for everything.”

Nevertheless, the unique racial dynamics of the Gambia are often lost on Blacks living abroad. On one occasion Murray had two sets of African Americans eat at the restaurant in which she works without paying their bills. When the police accosted one set, the couple denied it. The police responded by telling them they will take the couple to the police station and show them the witness statements. The Black Americans responded, “You are a brother, why are you taking her side.” 

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