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Morocco: Race and Racism

Categories: Middle East & North Africa, Morocco, Economics & Business, Ethnicity & Race, International Relations, Labor

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 [2], 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 [2]:

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 [3] for Talk Morocco and Togozine.com, a Togolese student named Christophe shares his experience of studying in Rabat, saying [3]:

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 [4]:

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 [5], and has generated a lively discussion there.

Photo of Gnawa musicians by eryoni [6] available on Flickr and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic [7] license.