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Morocco: Race and Racism

Gnawa musicians, native to Morocco

Morocco, long at the crossroads of East and West, Europe and the Arab world, is a diverse country in many ways, and as such, Moroccans are in many ways tolerant of difference. In other ways, as Smahane Bouyahia writes, foreigners have found the country to be inhospitable.

In Bouyahia's piece, the topic is, specifically, racism against Blacks in Morocco. Morocco's Black residents include native Moroccans from the southern parts of the country, Saharawis, sub-Saharan migrants and students, and African-Americans and Europeans. A diverse group in the country for varied reasons, Black foreigners often find themselves grouped together as a monolith, and treated differently from native Moroccans. As Bouyahia writes:

For the majority of Moroccans, this anti-Black attitude is reflected in their behavior towards Black foreigners who either haven’t integrated with the general population or who aren’t Muslim. The underlying superiority complex dates back to Antiquity. At that time, there were thousands of Black slaves in Morocco. Some were part of the Moroccan military corps and the Civilian Guard, while others fulfilled various tasks given to them during the reign of Ahmed El-Mansour Eddahbi or even that of Moulay Ismail in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Bouyahia also writes about students, who come mostly from Francophone countries in Africa and often return home after completing their studies. He quotes a Congolese student, who says:

In Morocco, cultural or religious differences are not accepted. A non-Muslim Black is regarded differently from a Black Muslim for example. It is the same with a Black Moroccan and a Black foreigner. I lived in France for 15 years and have been to Côte d’Ivoire, Togo and many other countries. I can say with confidence that integration is not the same here (…) We aren’t that many in Morocco but Moroccans seem to resent us.

In a recent interview for Talk Morocco and Togozine.com, a Togolese student named Christophe shares his experience of studying in Rabat, saying:

From my side, I can not speak of full integration. I still can not understand certain practices and habits not to mention racism that is unfortunately a reality in Morocco. This concerns foreigners in general and sub-Saharan Africans in particular. We do not hang around a lot of Moroccans. Some are very nice but others just want to take advantage of you.

Christophe also discusses the relationship between Morocco's many African students and its clandestine, or illegal immigrants:

Our relations are not particularly positive. Let’s say it is simply an entente cordiale. Clandestine immigrants are sometimes involved in illegal activities and the students do not take the risk by being friends with them for fear of being arrested. We’re not in Morocco for the same reasons. Our brothers live in hiding, waiting for an opportune moment to try to immigrate to the other side of the Mediterranean. The students are here legally. Moroccans do not make the difference. It distorts the idea they have of us.

Not all bloggers agree with the charges of racism. Xoussef, in a piece analyzing Bouyahia's original article, writes:

I've been mulling this subject for some time now, trying to determine if Moroccans attitude toward black people is or isn't racism. That's obviously a sensitive issue, because you don't get around labelling people racists, that's a serious charge, and because I'm myself unsure how to differentiate between racism, xenophobia, ignorance and simple bigotry. It has also to do with my reluctance to indulge in stereotypes, actually asserting any opinion, when some 30 million people more or less are concerned. But when I read that article, I was literally itching to add my commentary, so here it is.

After having his say about each section of the article, Xoussef concludes:

I have always had excellent relationships with “African” students and co-workers, sometimes the only “whitish” dot in a group. I had all sorts of stories first hand from the nasty neighbour, the kids acting like stray dogs, the throwing of stones to the nasty lady at the resident card office. I herd the rumours, the nasty comments, the badmouthing and known a specimen of a true racist doubled by a hypocrite. Had I wrote anything about this topc, it would have been probably à charge. But I find this article with it's generalisations, superficial analysis, amalgamation of different topics and its single minded charge too quick to cry wolf when it's only a stray dog.
Had I wrote this I would have mentioned the giant Friday Couscous a neighbour prepares for the students, the Moul hanout (shop keeper) finding a way to tease his customers despite the language barrier, the Moroccan-Senegalese couple bringing their kid to the kindergarten every day and the crowded theatre at the African students festival. The Malian doctor who saw me come to this world (thanks doc)…

The original article by Bouyahia was also published on Morocco Board, and has generated a lively discussion there.

Photo of Gnawa musicians by eryoni available on Flickr and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.

5 comments

  • sandra

    It is sad to know that blacks are not looked up to even in Africa. After all Morocco is in Africa. If a black person can not feel good about themselves in Afica where should they go?

    I have observed that black Moroccan men marry white Moroccan women. Black Moroccan young women and the middle aged black Moroccan women are not married.

    What makes Moroccan think that they are superior by the color of their skin. Half or more of the population are uneducated. They can not read or write. They do not graduate from their school. Let’s get this thing right educate yourselves. The brain knows no color. How can you feel superior to a black person that is educated.

  • […] publicada el 16 Agosto 2010 · Ver post original [en], Fuente: Global […]

  • mohamed zefzaf

    Not a question of race, but of culture

    Years ago while on a teaching assignment at the ISIT in Tangier, I had a female student who was from Sub-Sahara Africa. She was a remarkable young woman: intelligent, astute, beautiful and realistic. Having had several conversations with her on a number of subjects, it came to be that one day she talked of Moroccan Racism toward “Africans.” She spoke of the insults at the Medina in Tangier, of the derogatory comments made about her appearance, and of the overall feeling of hostility displayed toward her by many Moroccans. The article by S.Bouyahia contains many truths; some of these were confirmed to me years ago by my student.

    It is a level or a measure of progress in Morocco and among Moroccans that this subject of racism is not taboo, and instead is being discussed. The general history of racism is a painful one and permeates nearly every civilization & culture. Education begins with conversation. In this context, the discussion above is a positive one. Hopefully, it will contribute to educating people about the need for a true rapprochement between all cultures.

    For this to happen, the following truth must reside in every human heart and mind: that the very notion of race is a fallacy, because we are all one race. These are not the words of a wide- eyed dreamer, but the absolute reality backed by every scientific research done in this domain. I recommend highly the 1950 U.N report entitled, “The Race Question”

  • Grace

    It is sad that in this day and age we are still tackling the issue of racism. The fact of the matter is that this ideology (black is better then white) is been passed on from one generation to another, sad but true. In the moroccan culture it is automatically assumed of a black person to be in need except for the few government workers (diplomats).
    We could go ahead and term this what ever we like and say that it has to do with the differance in culture forgetting that even the european culture is way different from the moroccan way of life but they are tolerated simply because they are white. So let’s hit the nail on the head and call this unfortunate situation what it really is “racism”. It”s not about the difference in our culture but the difference with our apperence. If we can call it what it is then we could TRY to find a way to eradicate this issue once and for all.

  • I know some maroccan immigrant here in Italy and what I can tell, is that some of them they do not really want a real integration. They are here just for money, they are not really interested on knowing “the others”, expecially “no-muslim” others, they want just want to re-create a “little marocco” just for them here. So it’s not surprising this post.

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