Racism towards Blacks in Morocco and Maghreb, a taboo topic

Reading time 9 min.

In Morocco, and north Africa, there is a serious problem of racism towards Black people. Called “Black Africans,” they are considered descendants of slaves and labeled “hartani”—literally, “second-rate free men”—or even worse, “aâzi”—which translates to “bloody Negro”. Blacks in Morocco, be they students, migrants, from the South of the Sahara or others, are constant victims of discrimination…

Moroccans are known to be racially prejudiced towards people with darker skin shades. In Morocco and the rest of the Maghreb, Black people have long been subject to different forms of discrimination. Constantly persecuted, insulted, abused and even assaulted, black people are subject to humiliating conditions on daily basis. To better understand this phenomenon, Afrik-News.com met African students, Moroccan citizens and an association.

A different kind of racism

According to Pierre Vermeren, a historian specialized in North African societies, there is a different degree of racism towards the Black Moroccan as against the Black foreigner.

“There are several categories of Blacks in Morocco. The first includes the endogenous Black populations who are directly descended from slaves and are now mixed with the Moroccan population. The second concerns the Black peoples of the South. They are concentrated in oases entirely populated by Black Africans and are yet to mix with Berbers or Arabs. The third includes Africans, mostly Senegalese, who come on pilgrimage to the Medina of Fez. The last category concerns students and migrants—those most affected by racism.”

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.

But, “slavery was never officially abolished. The French Protectorate at the beginning of the 20th century, simply forbid the act. But the initiative never came from Moroccan society itself,” says the historian while making reference to a book written by Mohammed Ennaji Soldats, esclaves et concubines which, according to him, perfectly illustrates this period.

“It is rare for a Moroccan woman to marry a Black man”

For Nadia, a fifty something year old Moroccan, the problem runs deeper than common racism. “It’s even deeper than that. This attitude is passed down from generation to generation. It is extremely unusual, for example, for a Moroccan woman to marry a Black man, even if he is a Muslim. It’s just not done. The only condition under which this might be ‘tolerated’ would be if the man didn’t have too obvious Black features. People worry about what their family or friends would think. The woman in question is likely to hear her mother or a friend tell her that there are ‘enough good Moroccan men for one not to have to go looking for a Black one.’”

According to Nadia, this attitude is commonplace in Morocco, and everywhere else in the Maghreb. “Even for a man who is usually freer for the fact that he is the one who passes down his name and religion to the children, to marry a ‘woman of color’ is not accepted by his family and friends. And this is even more difficult when a non-Muslim is involved. Mixed marriages are already rare in our culture—so marrying a non-Muslim or a Black Moroccan is simply unacceptable. This applies to my father’s generation, my generation, and also my children’s generation.”

Black in Morocco: The Nightmare of Students and Immigrants

“The most violent forms of racism are towards Black students. At the Cité international universitaire (international students dorms) in Rabat, it is visible. Students coming from all parts of the African continent to further their studies are regrouped amongst themselves, or even isolated. They do not share the same facilities with the ‘white’ Moroccan students. It’s all very communitarian,” says Hervé Baldagai, former Secretary-General of CESAM (Confederation of African Foreign Students in Morocco). “Black people face difficult conditions and regular abuse. We are called ‘bloody Negroes’ in Arabic, asked to leave the country, called ‘AIDS carriers’. We even have stones thrown at us. It’s unbearable. We face administrative difficulties, especially when go for our student permit or scholarships.”

Black Students Return Home After Their Studies

“In Morocco, we can’t really talk about it. 2M, a moroccan TV station once organized a debate on the topic. The problem is that certain parts of the interviews were censored, especially those parts where there were complaints. We discuss the cases of assault in the streets among ourselves, but that’s about it. Then again, what do you expect to happen? In general, at the end of their studies, Black students return to their home countries. Except those who come from conflict areas… and who are obliged to remain in Morocco.

“For the most part, we do not make the effort to explain the attitude of certain Moroccans. In my opinion, certain factors need to be considered. The first is religion. Black Muslims are less persecuted than Black Christians or animists. The second factor is due to cultural misunderstanding. Moroccan media always show the negative aspects of Sub-Saharan Africa (AIDS, war…) and Moroccans end up frightened by us and thus reject us. Third factor is education. It is very common to hear children and adults alike, call people ‘hartani’ (second-rate man) or ‘aazi’ (Negro). Young children insult us in the presence of their parents and are not corrected or scolded. Lastly, in my opinion, there is yet another reason, a political one. Since 1984, Morocco is not part of the African Union. This is due to the fact that certain African countries, such as Cameroon and South Africa, have challenged Morocco’s claim to sovereignty over Western Sahara,” Baldagai explains.

Congolese student, Parfait M’Benzé Mouanou who had been studying for a Master degree in Management (Logistics and Transport Engineering) for a year and a half at the ESM Management School in Rabat when Afrik-News interviewed him, explained that although “Congolese don’t need visas to come to Morocco, our passports being all we need, we are made to hand over close to 500 euros under the table, when we arrive at the airport, or else we will be sent out of the country. But besides that, I’m fitting in quite well. I must confess though that during my first days here, I wanted to go back home. Things weren’t going the way I’d hoped.

“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.

“There is high unemployment here and they believe that we are ‘taking their jobs.’ Once I’m done with school, I will go back to Congo. I don’t see myself building my career here. You know, there was a time when Black African students would go study in Côte d’Ivoire or Togo. These countries are closer to us culturally. But with the instability in these countries, we now come to Morocco where things are very different. Some people have treated us well and been very welcoming. These people are the pride of the country,” adds Parfait. Next to him, a young Beninese student, who preferred to remain anonymous, confided in us that verbal abuse is a daily occurrence for him.

A growing awareness

Nowadays, while tongues may be unraveling, the subject remains taboo in Morocco, a country where hospitality is a cultural asset. After an article by Maria Daif appeared in the Moroccan journal Telquel, a few years ago, there has been a greater awareness of the topic. Amel About El Aazm is one of the founders of the young organization Lawnouna (‘our colors’), created in 2004 in Rabat. The goal of the organization is to bridge the gap between Moroccans and Blacks or other people from diverse origins. According to her, “discrimination against Black people, especially from South of the Sahara, is a fact. It is a tough reality for them. No one can deny that racism exists in Morocco, those who do, do so in bad faith. That said, we cannot ignore that in Morocco, there are people from Sub-Saharan Africa who live very well. They have understood that they need to adopt a certain attitude to fit in with the rest of the population. There is an initial step to be taken, to adapt and discover the culture and the society where one lives. While they represent a small number, it proves that this is possible. That is the goal of our organization: to help Black people overcome the obstacles they may encounter. If a student needs four or five years to fit in with Moroccan society, Lawnouna, through its various activities, tries to speed up that integration.

“Racism is most obvious in the street. I do not think there is a single Black person in Morocco who is able to go out without being reminded that he or she is Black. Clichés and preconceptions abound for Black people. There was a time when some believed them to be cannibals. There is also the fact that some are descendants of slaves. You know, I have spent time in Congo and I’ve visited Mali as well. I also had to overcome clichés and preconceived notions about who I was. As a Franco-Moroccan woman, in Mali and in Congo, I was given the ‘Whiteman in Africa’-treatment. These attitudes are deeply rooted in society, much like it is in Morocco.

“Officially, nothing is being done to fight this racism, even though the King is pro-African in his politics and constantly evokes African unity in his speeches. However, there are more and more African festivals bringing together Fulani people, Malians, and others in Morocco. We even had Youssou N’dour (Senegalese artist) around recently,” says Amel Abou El Aazm. The debate is open and we hope that our modest contribution helps move things along.

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