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Try out PMC Labs and tell us what you think. Learn More. In Winnipeg, a midsize city in the Canadian Prairies undergoing social and demographical transformations, male African newcomer youth face challenges in their settlement experiences relating to conflicting and heterogeneous norms around sexuality, sex, and dating. The formation of sexuality within global, transnational, and urban contexts of settlement is not simply a matter of global forces affecting the local or local affecting the global.

By ethnographically situating interracial sexuality in a diverse urban locale where migrant youth are navigating multiple boundaries of race, nation, and sexuality in the transformation of their identities and subjectivities, we offer one story of how interracial sexualities are constituted in a specific time and place. Within Canada, newly arrived immigrant and refugee African young men are mired in the histories of taboo over sexual relations with white women while being key actors in transformations of heterosexuality, masculinity, blackness, and whiteness occurring through immigration and settlement processes.

On a cold night in Januarybitter even for a Canadian Prairie winter, several young men enlivened an otherwise sterile meeting room in an education resource center in downtown Winnipeg. The young men sitting around the table that night seemed pleased to have found themselves living in a city with such diversity, offering what they perceived to be an unimaginable variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds for sexual and intimate relations. Yet, as we learnt, interracial sexuality was not a simple matter for the young men as they negotiated cultural prescriptions for endogamous sexuality 1 simultaneously with navigating new urban spaces, where the borders of whiteness, blackness, femininities, and masculinities were negotiated in everyday sociality, including sex, romance, and intimacy.


Rather than accept interracial sexuality as a given, instead we look at how interracial sexuality was constituted through what our interlocutors said and did. We focus on two such spaces, downtown and the home. We situate sexuality and interracial desire as it pertains to racialized urban youth who were figuring out many aspects of settlement that linked to sexuality, including newfound geographical mobility and leisure time. Insofar as youth immigrants have resettled in Canada from their homes of origin, often via intermediary countries, the connection of sexuality with globalization is pertinent.

Interracial desire and sexuality, thus, can be traced to multiple discourses and embodied practices. Most other team members were immigrants in their twenties or thirties from Nigeria, Ghana, the Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and the Sudan.

African newcomer youth teenagers and young adults were the main participants. Eighty youth were involved in the research as focus group members, interviewees, and key informants, including cisgender men, cisgender women, and one transgender woman. Socioeconomic and religious backgrounds as well as migration trajectories to Canada as asylum seekers, refugees, immigrants, and international students also varied.

At the time of the research, most interlocutors lived or had ly lived in the downtown area of Winnipeg. Many had come to Canada under refugee assistance or sponsorship, arriving from refugee camps or neighborhoods in cities such as Kampala, Nairobi, or Khartoum.

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Some were immigrants whose families had business ties to local African communities. Others were university students. Here, we focus on the heterosexual teen boys and young men in our research. Since the s, Winnipeg has seen a steady increase in African immigrants and refugees, with high s of youth, and has been rapidly changing: Ethiopian restaurants, Habasha grocery stores, and an array of settlement services have appeared, to name only a few such transformations.

The downtown shopping mall and shisha ts are popular meeting places for African youth. African bars and nightclubs change ownership and locations in response to changing leisure and consumption patterns of the youth population. Characterized by difference, diversity, fragmentation, and poverty, it is constructed as dangerous, poor, rundown, and not very safe or desirable for living Ghorayshi As we will show, the African youth inhabiting this space were affected by such negative imagery of the inner city that was their home, and their embodied presence shaped the racialized geography of the inner city.

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For African newcomer youth, these urban spaces consisted of multiple boundaries to be navigated and negotiated. For many of our interlocutors, places like the central park, Africans clustered in nationally based groups, were sites of interethnic, intergenerational conflict. The gossip and judgment directed toward them and their life decisions—including who they dated and slept with—was best avoided. Despite widely shared concerns about the safety of the downtown area, its socializing opportunities were a strong pull for youth. Within their first days in Winnipeg, Dany and his family were taken to a department store and shown by an immigrant services agency how to buy necessities for Canadian living.

The snow melting in late spring alled for him the dreaded hot Prairie summer. He joked about his preference for winter—challenging preexisting conceptions of Africanness that surfaced in his new life in Canada.

“mostly with white girls”: settlement, spatiality, and emergent interracial sexualities in a canadian prairie city

For Dany, his family was newly situated as African—and Black—through these encounters in and with Canada. Our interlocutors tended not see themselves as Black before settling in Canada. Youth protested the common misidentifications as Jamaican or Haitian that often occurred. Some youth had not seen white people before coming to Canada; some had been instructed by their parents about what to expect from white society in Canada; some had had no idea about Canada except for what they had seen on television, which were often depictions of United States culture.

Youth talked about white Canadian society as an experience of culture shock, particularly with regard to Canadian sexual norms, where kissing and hugging openly in public and public talk about sex and sexuality were unfamiliar and shocking. A bustling shopping mall complete with the Canadian icon of coffee shops, Tim Hortons, is also nearby.

Many of the youth who participated in our research lived at the Commons. In their first months, they spent much time in the neighborhood, attending school, homework clubs, or programs at various immigrant organizations. They also spent a great deal of newfound leisure time in the mall and its environs, especially when arriving during the harsh Prairie winter.

While the everyday social worlds of newcomer youth residing in the Commons were culturally diverse, as it housed families from many different African backgrounds, the mall represented another degree of diversity altogether.

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In Winnipeg, you have all of these cultures, you know. There is not just one culture. In the downtown spaces where our research participants spent their early days of settlement, such as the mall, sexuality was performed and played out through masculinized consumption and leisure.

Hindi was fifteen and had just finished his first year in a Canadian high school when we interviewed him.

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For him, it had been logical to explore a relationship with a local girl born in the Prairies, since back in Sierra Leone people of European descent had not been very visible to him in the town where he had spent his childhood. Hindi explained. You also want to try and do something different. When you date them, it actually is a different kind of perspective. Although teachers were racist toward them and made them feel as outsiders and strangers relative to white youth and other immigrant groups at high schools, such as Filipino youth, the African newcomer youth expressed a sense of placement—along with displacement—in these everyday places.

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Dating whomever they wanted aligned with their desires to rightly experience sociability with different racial and cultural groups. We focus on two such locales for this dating: home and downtown. They do not have to caution themselves around their family. Dany had had a similar experience. Our point here is not to convey exceptionalism about Canadian hospitality—racism was also experienced with the families of white girlfriends—but rather that interracial sexuality was played out within, and animated by, intimate spaces of domesticity.

Homes were thus unexpected sites for the of urban youth culture and, more specifically, flagged what youth regarded as distinctively white Canadian culture. Homes, in this sense, became a kind of frontier and site in the local production of interracial sexuality where Black African youth were key actors within and also subjects of multiculturalism. Sam had been living in Winnipeg for five years when we met him. Eritrean by heritage, he spent several years in Kenya before coming to Canada with his parents and younger siblings.

As a single man in his twenties when he had arrived in Winnipeg, he frequented the downtown night spots with friends, including other Eritreans. For Sam though, the city was an important space for fostering male camaraderie and heterosexual sexual relations and social networks.

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He spent much time downtown, immersed in a growing youth subculture that was transforming the urban landscape. Many of our interlocutors found downtown exhilarating due to the Africanized spaces that promised cosmopolitanism and diversity. Socializing opportunities available downtown were often associated with transgression.

Sam liked to play pool and smoke shisha with other Eritreans and Ethiopians in the Ethiopian restaurant bars. An Eritrean friend who worked long hours in several jobs lent out his downtown apartment to Sam and his friends so that they could entertain women once the bars and clubs closed for the evening. Located close to the bars and clubs, in the apartment Sam and his friends could watch porn and chill with their girlfriends or hookups, providing a sexual space that allowed the men to avoid bringing women to both the family homes of Sam and his friends and the family homes of the women.

For Sam, introducing any of the women he met downtown to his family was unthinkable, nor did he want to meet their families. Masculinized mobility—that is, the gendered freedom to move from one locale to another associated with masculinity from African spaces to white spaces, from spaces of consumption to private spaces of leisure —and desires for interracial sexuality were interlinked.

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African male youth regarded sexual encounters with white women as desirable outcomes of the physical and social mobility that these young men enjoyed. I want my girlfriend to be like a white girl, I want my girlfriend to act like a white girl. These transgressive boundary crossings can be seen as locally specific emergences of interraciality and were linked to larger processes. Located in a particular time and space, youth were thus active agents in shaping both white femininity and interracial sexuality. The upward trend of visible minority populations in Canadian cities has shaped the constitution of white womanhood with respect to which groups are ased to this category Deliovsky17, More recently, the Habasha identity of Eritreans and Ethiopians living in Winnipeg further contests and historicizes the definition and authorization of whiteness.

The broader issue regarding which women fit within the imaginary of normative femininity is salient to the reshaping, transmuting, and calling into question of white womanhood currently underway in Canada. Interraciality necessitated decoding as much as constructing white femininity. Like many of our interlocutors, Odol articulated a desire to express sexuality seemingly made possible through whiteness, such that the characteristics that he and his friends had come to associate with white normative femininity were that which he desired, as outlined above, and not necessarily the skin color, fleshy body, ethnicity, or nationality of the actual person.

One way they did so was by negotiating new boundaries of race and ethnicity as newcomers in a complexly diverse city. On the one hand, in making white femininity and womanhood such a key symbol of Black male heterosexual sexual transgression, youth appear to be bolstering the power accruing to whiteness.

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Race is ignored in the naturalizing trick of normalizing white bodies in Canada. How was erotic and sexual desire and heterosexual orientation animated by imaginaries and social relations of racial difference embodied and performed in specific spaces and places? We have explored these questions. These are the complex contexts wherein male African immigrant and refugee youth forge sexual lives and subjectivities. Our analysis has focused on how youth were active subjects in urban transformations in Winnipeg.