fifteen eighteen now years ago, shortly after I got married. My husband and I were in Casablanca, and he had “abandoned” me to park the car while I went shopping.
The saleswoman was nice, she started to make conversation, and you are in Morocco, and why, you are married, yes that’s good, you are Moroccan now, and what is your husband’s name?
– Ah that’s a very nice name, it’s the name of the first muezzin, you know… ”
Yes, I know.
This whole beautiful story was shattered in an instant when my husband walked into the shop.
The shop assistant said to me, with a pinched look
“Ah, he’s got the colour too”.
In Morocco, black people are called “azzi”, which is an insult
There are Moroccans who are descendants of slaves, the Haratins or the Gnawas. There are Berbers from the south who mixed well with the “even more southern” populations, either during the caravans that went to Timbuktu, which was integrated into the Saadian empire, or simply because the origin of the Almoravid dynasty was in Mauritania (and my husband’s tribe belongs to the same Sanhaja Berbers from which the Almoravids came).
There are also expatriates, with a sizeable African colony, in Casablanca in particular, who are there for business. Many students, too, who will then return to their country, diploma in hand.
Finally, there are all the illegal migrants, the “Sub-Saharans” as they are called, who are concentrated in Morocco in the hope of being able to go to Europe one day. They live in extremely difficult conditions, begging along the main streets. In Casablanca, racist reactions against them are increasing as they become more numerous and more visible. Like everywhere…
(and when I tell a Casablanca taxi driver that he has exactly the same words against Blacks in Morocco as the National Front, a far-right party, eructs against “Arabs” in France, he bugs without understanding).
This Medi1 report on mixed couples shows in particular a Moroccan who married a Senegalese woman. They are well-to-do people, their daughter’s testimony is unambiguous.
I’ve set the video to the start of their testimony:
#BlacklivesMatter, here too
Despite this undeniable racism, Moroccan police violence is not comparable to that in France, and even less in the US, neither in general, nor in particular against black people.
The Moroccan policeman is anything but gentle, he is feared, but there is not here – I think – the same history of violence and institutionalised oppression as in France. Repeated identity checks, for example, are unknown in Morocco because they don’t make sense.
The moqqadem, the guards, … everyone knows everyone in town. As for the last shanty towns or the large abandoned districts like Lissasfa, they are surrounded, perhaps, but the police simply do not enter them. Identity checks are carried out here in very specific circumstances (on the road, when you are “waiting with modesty”, when the Moroccan friend who accompanies you is suspected of being a false guide, etc.) but not in a systematic way as in France.
Arrests are brutal. But here again, since I have been in Morocco, I have never heard of an abusive arrest that led to the death of the person arrested. Police violence is indiscriminate … on Facebook recently, a Fassi man complained that he had been beaten up by a Berber policeman who was taking revenge on him because of the colour of his skin, he said. The problem is that in Morocco as in the West, social and economic status and skin colour are linked.
Moreover, in Morocco as in France, one encounters the same reactions of denial, such as this one, during the anti-racist campaign “My name is not nigger (azzi)“. Or this one, which seeks to change the meaning of the word and reminds us that Gnawa music is valued in Morocco (see below for the daily reality).
Mitigating racism through Muslim solidarity
The fact that many of these migrants are Muslims plays a role, I believe, in this situation. More or less accepted, more or less despised, they are still “brothers” in a religion where racism is not supposed to exist. If I tell you about the darker sides of Morocco, this reality also exists. It is less relevant, of course, for Christian Africans, but it does exist. The numerous reactions to the video of this kaid in a migrant neighbourhood in Casablanca, for example, at the beginning of the confinement, testify to this:
This makes up for that:
Racism or traditional structures?
Moroccans do not consider themselves racist. They are not racist, but… all those who have gone to live in Black Africa come back with the same reaction: “but over there I was treated as an equal, there is no racism”.
The difficulty is that Morocco is still a very traditional country, where tribal organisation still structures society enormously, even if these structures are less visible nowadays. For some people, we don’t talk about a “tribe” but about a “family”, which is the same thing.
So the black man is not part of the tribe. He is simply not part of the tribe. You can respect him in your daily life, but he has to live in his circle.
A friend of mine from Tinghir, from a Gnawa family, explained to me that people used the Gnawas and respected them for their baraka (their power of intercession), but that Berbers and Gnawas did not get married.