Colorism in Rural Morocco
Updated: Apr 24, 2019
BNI QUOLLA, MOROCCO --- “I want to say something… but I don’t want you guys to be mad at me,” said Tarik, a boy around ten years old, from the Bni Quolla commune. Tarik was usually bold and playful. Now, he was cowering on the couch, hiding from the large group that was sitting for discussion in the ornate living room. There were about 40 of us sitting on beautifully crafted couches that hugged every inch of the walls around the rectangular room. I played with the tassels on the red and gold woven pillow cases, so rich in color intertwining the patterns of leaves and flowers. There were five or so young kids around ten or younger, us college students, and adult women from the village.
A few women shook their hands in the air as if waving his question away. We, the college students, urged him to speak. We were after all in this village for a week to immerse ourselves in the rural life of Moroccans. We wanted to learn.
He spoke and the room fell silent. Our translators face, Badr, was wary. His face, usually on the edge of some silly joke was now nothing short of sad dad mode.
“I don’t know if I should say this guys, it wasn’t really….”
And with that, we solidified our belief that we MUST hear what he said. This. Is. A. Safe. Space. Our friend Tarik, who on the second day riled us up into a game of tag and took us to a field to teach us how to make dope flower crowns had something important to say. We weren’t about to silence it.
Our translator agreed.
“He said that he thought black people were evil.”
My heart sank.
“He says that before this program he thought that black people were bad and when he would see, say, a white person and black person playing soccer, the black person would be bad and the white person would be good. But now, he realizes that that’s not true. Sometimes black people are even better than white people.”
Silence filled the room and I couldn’t help glancing at one of the few black girls in the program across from me who was wiping tears from her eyes. Hell, I wanted to cry.
Micaela was sitting next to me. She’s a young, beautiful, black fashionista of a women who is beyond smart (I’m not trying to validate her by the way, she really is just amazing).
She spoke up, “I just wanted to say, thank you for saying that and I want to tell him that it’s like that in America too, not just here.”
“I just wanted to say thank you for saying that, and I want to tell him that it’s like that in America too, not just here.”
It was translated and the air in the room felt like it had curled. Even I was happy it had been said and heard, but deeply pained to hear the words out loud.
An older women across from me and Micaela looked at her and said
“You are beautiful.”
The conversation continued and someone asked the other girl who was crying if she was okay, she said “I’m crying because I’m happy.”
The program worked. It broke a stereotype. For Tarik, it meant a bigger, better soccer team to play with. On a larger scale, it meant a kinder, more educated world.
Bni Quolla. Source: Arlinda Fasliu
1 Week Later
This happened a week ago and not a day goes by that I don’t think about it.
To be reminded by a sweet boy that these ugly thoughts transcend borders is terrifying. To live with a fear, with the knowledge of hatred so strong, that in our own country gave power to the largest supporter of racism, bigotry, and perpetrator of lies feels like the damn twilight zone.
It’s as if you are walking on a tight rope with knives at the bottom and an angry mob behind you is screaming that you’ll never make it. Sometimes, a few people even grab the rope and shake it beneath your feet. Even if you make it to the other side, they could mistake you for an intruder on private property and shoot you.
When moments like these occur, it's a stark reminder of how much work is still left to be done in the world. It’s not that I wasn’t aware of racism or colorism before coming to Morocco; It's that I refuse to stop being surprised by it. The moment I allow myself to stop being surprised is the moment I feel like I'll become complacent to it.
I support the BLM movement, I try to be well informed on African Diaspore and the capitalization of black bodies in sports, the arts... and so on, to the best of my ability. Although I consider myself conscientious, I by no means think I could understand the struggle that black people have endured and continue to endure. I only hope to keep educating myself and those around me. So, I've been taking notes on this trip.
In Morocco, I was originally a bit surprised about the colorism. Seeing darker skinned Moroccans voice their racist ideologies, I asked myself:
What is being black?
Where do these Moroccans with a chestnut skin tone and a racist ideology put themselves on this chart of acceptance?
Why do people insist on asking students they deem out of place “But where are you really from?"
It's emotionally exhausting. Conversations about our backgrounds can turn into an hour of teaching a class about how not to be a shitty human. They can be filled with thinly veiled prejudice, stereotypes and racist presumptions. It's up to us to be better; listen and learn. This moment taught me that the conversation can be painful, but worth it.
Here's to continuing the good fight of expanding education and cultural exchange around the world one hard conversation at a time.
* Here's an article talking a bit more about this.
Note: BNI QUOLLA was filled with the most kindhearted people I have ever met. They treated us like family. We played games, exchanged stories and jokes. I will be going back to visit one day. I encourage anyone who wants an amazing experience in rural Morocco to do the same.