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Today, I Was Called a “Nigger”: Rampant Rabid Racism in Morocco


For six weeks, this was my reality living in Fez. Every day, insults and slurs in French, Arabic, and even English were hurled in my direction without any provocation. In general, I would consider myself a relatively confident person, but being a black woman in Fez and the daily experiences of abuse that came with it almost broke me. They broke me so much so that it has taken me months to feel comfortable writing about it and sharing my story with you.



Zerlina Bartholomew was called "nigger" and told to "stay out of the sun or become ugly." Some uttered dog and monkey sounds as she walked by.
Zerlina Bartholomew was called "nigger" and told to
"stay out of the sun or become ugly." Some uttered dog
and monkey sounds as she walked by.
By Zerlina Bartholomew
I should clarify that the experiences I had in Fez are not indicative of the entire community; indeed, I found friendship and solace in some who lived there and who were willing to listen to my concerns and discomfort. Particularly, I must thank two individuals in Fez who unknowingly gave me the strength and courage to continue my journey there. Without them, I am sure that I would have let the negativity have a lasting effect on me.

However, I do find it important that I share the truth of my own experiences because I would be dishonest to say that everything had been fantastic. I find it important because my identity as a Black woman plays a direct role in how we interact with the world and even more so how the world, in turn, interacts with us.

Being a young black woman abroad has been a challenge, which is especially evident in my encounters in Fez. The first day I was there, I heard at least 12 remarks made about my skin color within a span of 35 minutes. 35 minutes! Whether they called me “Mama Africa,” “rasta,” “aziya*,” or “black chocolate,” the majority of young Moroccan men made it a point to make me uncomfortable by degrading my dark complexion.

Initially, I brushed off these remarks because I had heard them all before when I was last in Morocco. However, as time progressed and as it became clear that I was not simply a tourist but a new city-dweller, the aggressions became more frequent and bolder. Every day, I was reminded of my skin color. Some even, so magnanimously, advised me to stay out of the sun because I would not want to turn ugly (because light, fair skin is a signifier of beauty?). Others uttered dog and monkey sounds as I walked past them. It even escalated to men touching me and trying to corner me in broad daylight with plenty of people to bear witness yet fail to help.

For some, it may be hard to understand just how much words and insults can influence your life and the way you think. I want to emphasize that it is very difficult dealing with such aggressions. It is not as simple as “ignoring them”, as most people whom I have confided in throughout my life told me to do. It is much more complex.

[...]

I want to say something that has been on my mind for a while. Do not be fooled. While it is true that Morocco is a generally welcoming and hospitable country, this “marhaba bik” mentality is in most spaces reserved for white tourists, and specifically white men. It immediately stops once your gender and skin color are deemed inferior and only useful for mockery and perpetual ridicule and abuse. It is my opinion that there is a real race problem in Morocco, as there is, of course, in every country. The extent to which anti-black racism has deeply grabbed hold of the Moroccan psyche has practically made the country ignorant of its own identity. After all, as much as some may want to deny it, Morocco is a country of color in a continent of color.

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