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Exploring Racism in Morocco: Should You be Worried?

black woman holding a hand of a mixed race child

If you’re a person of colour, whether you’re black, brown or of ethnicity other than Moroccan and white, you might be wondering if discrimination and racism in Morocco are major issues, and if it’s something that you should be concerned about.

Firstly, it’s essential to acknowledge that no country is entirely free of racism and discrimination.

Unfortunately, there are racist Moroccans who can be really rude. They view people from sub-saharan Africa as inferior, and because of that, treat them poorly.

On the other hand, you’ll find many Moroccans who are welcoming and friendly regardless of your skin colour or how you look.

They’re happy to see people from other countries taking interest and living in the land they call home.

In this blog post, we’ll explore some experience we had in regards to racism. We’ll also address your main concerns, and navigate through them together.

Feel free to skim through, jump through a section or save it for later!

Go make yourself a cuppa and come back.

The diversity of ethnic groups in Morocco

Morocco is a place where lots of different kinds of people live together, making it a really interesting mix of cultures and ethnicities. We’ve got Berbers, Arabs, Sahrawis, Gnawas, Jews and more.

Because of it’s geographical location we also get an intriguing mix of genetic makeups. If you go south, there are many Moroccans who look like people from sub Saharan Africa. And if you go further north, you will find Moroccans who have the Mediterranean look.

So yes, you’ll find black Moroccans, light-skinned ones, and some who fall in the middle – a whole beautiful spectrum.

Now, even though Morocco’s diversity is a true gem, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Just like anywhere else, we’ve got some issues with discrimination between different groups.

One common example is this tension between Moroccan Arabs and Moroccan Amazighs, otherwise also known as the Berbers. (This will need its own blog post, lol)

But for today, let’s dive into what it’s like being black in Morocco. It’s a topic that deserves its own spotlight, especially because it’s often the first thing people notice about you.

You see, black Moroccans also encounter discrimination, and that’s something we need to talk about.

Difference between racism and discrimination

Ever noticed how the word ‘racism’ seems to be thrown everywhere these days?

When people first asked me about racism in Morocco, I find myself in a bit of a muddle because the question can be a bit hazy and open-ended.

“What’s racism like in Morocco? I’m told many Moroccans are racist.”

Let’s revisit the meaning of the word ‘racism’.

Racism is a belief system or ideology that asserts one race’s superiority over others, leading to prejudice and discrimination towards people of different racial or ethnic backgrounds.

You can’t know for sure someone is racist until they display discriminatory behaviour.

And discrimination is hard to tell unless the person says it outright or you witness their interactions with different ethnicities over time.

If you’re here, I understand that you’re worried about the discrimination that stems from this ignorant belief.

Will we be treated poorly?”

Will it effect our quality of life?

It is indeed a genuine concern, and I sympathise with it. But don’t worry, I’m here to shed some light on this topic, insha’Allah.

The Many Faces of Racial Discrimination

Discrimination comes in various shapes. Some subtle. Some are just outright rude and some can be agressive.

It’s also worth noting that it affects people differently. What might be unacceptable to someone else, you might be able to just brush it off with a laugh or an eye-roll.

A good example of this is an elderly woman we used to know.

She was a friend’s mother. We didn’t know she held racist views until we got to know her and sat with her a few times.

She would tell us straight out,

“White skin people are more beautiful than black skin people.”

Now, people are entitled to have opinions what’s beautiful to them. After all, beauty is subjective.

It becomes problematic, however, when people try to force their beauty standards onto others.

After all the damage caused by Western media, the last thing we need is folks from the Muslim community hopping on the bandwagon.

With this aunty, if you brought her a stunning and beautiful black woman, and a not-so-attractive white woman, she’d fight to have the white woman as her son’s bride over the black woman.

racism in morocco

Flaws and defects? Oh, that didn’t matter to her.

As long as her chosen bride had that magical “white skin,” she was ready to overlook everything else!

My sister and I would often get so annoyed and try to argue with her about her racist views. And, oh, did we WASTE our breaths.

But see, all that did was just that.

Annoyed us.

Did it impact our livelihood?

No.

Did it make us consider enrolling in “Dealing with Aunties 101”?

Almost.

If you encounter any of these aunties, just smile and let them ramble on. And oh, make a mental note not to invite them next time.

Besides that silly aunty, let’s talk about the real issues.

When moving to a new country, I’ve identifed three major concerns due to fear of racial discriminations:

  • Verbal and physical assault on the streets
  • Being treated unfairly in the face of law
  • Children getting bullied in school or in the neighbourhood

Being verbally assaulted in the streets

racism in morocco - morocco stairs and people and palm trees

People like the aunty mentioned in the real example above, doesn’t pose direct threats. But having someone aggressively yell at you with insults and slurs can be quite frightening.

It’s not common to be verbally assaulted, whether it’s in public or in more private settings in Morocco.

And it’s extremely uncommon to be physically assaulted.

I’ve read a few stories, but it’s not normal.

An African American sister, who lived in Marrakech, said she’s never experienced verbal assault there.

But her husband did, and only once when he was with his friend in a busy part of the city.

A police officer called them qurood, meaning ‘monkeys’.

I mean, seriously? That’s the best you could come up with?

Another one I read on the internet, was an African girl who got on a taxi and exclaimed how happy she was to be back in Africa. The Moroccan taxi driver annoyedly told her in response,

“There’s a good Africa, and there’s a bad Africa. This is the good Africa.”

Talk about ignorance and arrogance as its finest.

If it happens, from my findings, it’s usually in a bigger city or a big market place.

Usually, in a place you rarely go to, and with people who don’t expect to see you again (like bus passengers or a taxi driver).

How to prepare and respond (if it happens)?

Nobody likes to be shouted at or be told they’re lesser than people around them because the colour of their skin or where they come from.

Having one person verbally assault you can ruin your whole day, especially if it’s also directed at your loved ones.

As off-putting as it may be, let me tell you this:

That person doen’t deserve your anger.

If anything, we might even feel sorry for them.

Despite living and growing up in a Muslim country, it seems that Islam is not truly present in their hearts, and they appear to be shrouded in ignorance.

These people are probably the same people who idolise white people and the life in the West.

How sad is that?

Because of their ignorance and misguidance, they probably have some deep-seated issues, feel insecure, or have a need to feel powerful and in control.

I wholeheartedly pray that you never encounter such situations, but if you do, I hope you can face them with grace and composure.

Remember, such incidents are not common, and it’s unlikely that they will significantly impact your daily life, insha’Allah.

Being treated unfairly by the law

We’ve had some good experience with the police.

But we also heard a fair share of disheartening stories from people we know.

However, the bad experience with the police can’t always be attributed to racism.

Because it happens to Moroccans, too.

Unless the police made a racist comment, you can only accept the fact that you just happen to be dealing with a bad police officer.

According to my father, Moroccan police usually show extra diligence when dealing with foreigners (especially Westerners). They want to look good and ensure your experience in Morocco is pleasant.

When a relative’s house got robbed, the Moroccan police did such an excellent job identifying the suspect and creating an elaborate plan to apprehend them.

They ambushed him at a local cafe, and recovered almost everything that was stolen.

And a few days later, the Moroccan police caught his fleeing accomplice.

To be honest, we never had high expectations for the Moroccan police (sorry).

When we reported the incident, we didn’t expect much. It was like tossing a message in a bottle into the sea and hoping for a miracle.

But surprise, surprise…!

(Pst, this is a story for another time, insha’Allah.)

How to prepare and deal with unhelpful police?

Incidents like the one just mentioned are not the only times you’ll encounter the Moroccan police.

You’re likely to interact with them on the road, when dealing with paperwork, or during Covid lockdown situations.

If you happen to face a difficult encounter with the police (whether it’s racially motivated or not), don’t fret! Here are some tips on how to handle the situation:

  1. Stay Calm: Take a deep breath and remain composed. Keeping your cool can go a long way in diffusing tense situations.
  2. Be Respectful: Show respect to the police officer, even if you don’t agree with their actions. Being polite can help improve the interaction.
  3. Ask for Clarification: If you don’t understand something, politely ask the officer for clarification.
  4. Know Your Rights: Familiarise yourself with your rights within Moroccan law. Knowing what is permissible can be helpful in asserting yourself appropriately.
  5. Avoid Confrontation: Refrain from arguing or getting confrontational with the police. It’s best to maintain a cooperative attitude.
  6. Take Notes: If needed, jot down important details of the encounter for future reference.
  7. File a Complaint: If you believe you were treated unfairly, you can file a complaint through proper channels.

When faced with injustice, remember to turn to Allah for help, seeking ease and a way out. Keep asking for His forgiveness (by making istighfaar) and never forget this powerful reminder:

“The dua of the oppressed is always answered.”

That being said, the majority of police interactions should be smooth and uneventful, insha’Allah.

Discrimination and bullying against children in school

Children can sometimes be unkind, and bullying in school is common, whether it’s in Morocco or elsewhere.

If your children look different in any way, such as having a different skin colour, unique facial features, or a disability, there’s always a risk of them being bullied at school.

In Moroccan schools, I haven’t went beyond 1st grade to witness racial bullying, but I did encounter it in the UAE schools.

Girls would call me and my sister names, and when we tried to sit on the bus, they would hold seats, not allowing us to sit down.

Often, it only takes a few students to start the bullying, and the rest of the group follows suit.

The most common form of racially motivated bullying in Morocco is when children use derogatory names to target foreign children.

For instance, if a child is of East Asian origin, they might be labeled as ‘Shiniwiyya,’ which essentially means ‘Chinese’ and is meant to be offensive.

This might not be as common now as it was before.

One – more foreigners are starting to migrate to Morocco than before.

Two – because of internet seeing someone that looks different is not as strange as it did a decade ago or two.

Usually with younger children, this is as far as they go. So if you’re planning to put your children in school for the first year or two, it’s not something to worry about too much, I’d say.

There’s only so much you can do how other children behave, but you can guide your child how to navigate through it.

This can be done by teaching them what we’re taught in Islam. About how Allah created us all differently, but the most beloved are not determined by looks or skin colour. Rather, it’s who has the most taqwa.

That being said, my insight on this topic is limited, so if you have some experience, please share in the comments!

Sub-Saharan Africans in Morocco

When we came to live in Tamesna in 2019, we saw a wave of sub-Saharan Africans settling in the town. Interestingly, our next door neighbour happened to be a Congolese family.

Usually, the migrants from sub-Saharan Africa initially come to Morocco as a gateway to Europe. However, many decided to establish themselves in the country.

The Moroccan king and government have extended a gracious welcome, providing these individuals with residency status and the rightful legal entitlement to reside and build lives in Morocco.

We’ve never sat with them or talked on a deep level, but when we would go out we’d sometimes observe their interactions with the locals.

There was this African lady that was selling scotch bonnet while carrying her baby on her back. She might have been Senegalese. I was happy to see the scotch bonnet so I stopped to buy from her (yay, jerk chicken!).

Now, she didn’t have a proper shop. She was selling her scotch bonnet on a small plastic table. And she had it placed in front of a bigger shop which belonged to a Moroccan man. He sold all sorts of fruits and vegetables.

Normally, people don’t like that as it inteferes with their business, but he was okay with it. And then when she was about to give me the peppers she realised she needed a bag. She went to the shop owner and asked for one, and he gave it to her.

And then when I paid her for the scotch bonnet, I didn’t have a smaller bill. She didn’t have change so she went back to the shop guy and asked him if he could break the money, and he obliged.

It was a nice thing to see, masha’Allah.

On the flip side, we also witnessed a somewhat uncomfortable encounter. It happened on a bus. An elderly man was loudly ranting and experessing his strong disapproval of having migrants in the country.

In a similar vein to how certain British individuals would complain about Romanians taking their jobs, this man was airing grievances about the same issue.

Your perception can also greatly impact your experience

Your mentality and how you approach people can also significantly impact your experience.

For example, when I asked my sister what she thinks of people in Fnideq (northern Moroccan town). Her response was rather negative. She said Fnideq people were rather distant and only kept to themselves.

When I asked my brother, however, his response was completely different. He spoke good about the people in Fnideq, and praised how friendly they were.

Why are their responses so different?

I realised it’s because my sister is a cautious type. She’s always wary of people and when she approaches them, that’s the energy she gives, so in return, people mirror this.

Whereas my brother, he’s an optimistic person. He approach people with good energy, and therefore is met with the same repicorated enthusiasm.

So if you approach people with the thought of “he might treat me poorly”, chances are you’ll leave the interaction feeling that way.

Therefore, it’s important to note that expectations could shape the actual experience.

Should Fear of Racism Prevent You From Making Hijrah?

Discrimination is an unfortunate reality that exists in different parts of the world, and the thought of encountering it in a Muslim country can be really disheartening.

At the same time, it’s essential to remember that fear shouldn’t be the sole factor guiding your decisions. Making hijrah is a significant step that can bring about remarkable changes in your life.

It’s about seeking a better life and a stronger connection to your faith, for you and your family. While it’s true that racism can exist anywhere, it’s also true that kindness, understanding, and acceptance can be found in unexpected places.

Taking steps to address your concerns, like researching the communities you’re considering and connecting with people who have made a similar journey, can help you make an informed decision.

Remember, you’re not making hijrah because of racism in the West.

Being discrimated against because of the colour of your skin or where you come from, something you cannot change, can be disheartening.

However, it’s not nearly as scary for being discriminated against due to your beliefs and Islamic values, something that can easily be influenced and changed.

And like I mentioned earlier, if you do encounter any discriminations it’s not something that will significantly impact your daily life, insha’Allah.

However, if this remains a significant concern for you, it’s worth noting that aside from Arab countries, there are numerous Muslim countries in Africa that you might want to explore as potential options.

Helpful Resources

To support you with your hijrah journey, I’ve established Facebook groups where you can seek assistance and advice from other expat Muslim communites in Morocco:

Naadirah, a British sister I got to know from Instagram page also offers good advice on this topic. She made hijrah to Egypt, and recently made a grand move to Gambia (Allahuma baarik!). You can visit her page here.

Related blog posts:

And it does get better, insha’Allah

When you’re living in a place for awhile, you naturally filter out negative people in your life.

You learn who to interact with with and which individuals to stay clear of.

Sometimes, people might treat you differently at first because they’re cautious and have certain ideas about you. But over time, when they see that you’re not what they thought, they might start to be friendlier.

I’ve actually had this experience recently with my Egyptian neighbour (in the UAE). When I introduced myself as half Moroccan, she became distant and wanted nothing to do with me due to a past negative experience.

Yet, after several interactions her attitude shifted. She started sending food over and offered if we needed help.

This highlights how your presence in a new place can truly reshape perspectives.

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Please bear in mind that this is only our experience and opinions. Our perspectives are shaped by our personal observations and interactions, and they may not encompass the entirety of the situation.

Have you encountered similar situations or different perspectives? Share your experiences and thoughts with us in the comments below!

Your insights can add depth to the conversation and help us gain a broader understanding of the topic, insha’Allah.


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