As a black woman in North Africa, it is no easy task to walk to the streets without being subjected to glances, comments, few good and many negative. You would think that being of African heritage in North Africa would make things easier for me, but maybe due to the presence of tourists, a general disrespect for women who are not Muslim or lack of regard for black bodies, it has been anything but.
Here in Morocco, I personally have experienced colorism, sexism and xenophilia, although not in a positive manner, to quite extent. Some might say that I have been privileged. My skin is not as dark as some Africans, I can be described as brown or, cafe au lait, if you want a visual. Walking through the streets of Morocco I have been called all sorts of names, mostly by the men who feel the need to give their unsolicited attention to every female who crosses their path. On the streets of Tangier, I have been called “Negrita”. I have been called “Chocolate”. It seems as though there is some glaring necessity to point out my race. On one occasion, as I stood outside a restaurant with a friend, two men passed by us and felt the need to point out the fact that I was black and she was white.
Although my skin color is the most obvious of my physical characteristics, in the United States, people certainly don’t feel obliged to point it out casually in passing or to identify me by it. You would think that being in Morocco, an African country, the people, or men more specifically would have grown accustomed to the presence of black females. But alas, no.
Recently I travelled to Chefchaouen, a small city in Morocco. Nicknamed the Blue Pearl for its buildings painted in varying shades of blue, Chefchaouen is nestled amongst the Rif mountains of Morocco. The city itself was peaceful and quite, a wonderful escape from the intensity of Tangier. Unfortunately, I was unable to escape the leering eyes and heckling of the men in Chefchaouen. It seems as though this necessity to harrass women who are obviously not Moroccan is a trait that most of the men throughout the country have been raised with.
In Chefchaouen, the heckling differed a little. While in Tangier, the name calling and leering was focused on my skin color, in Chefchauoen there seemed to be an obsession and confusion with my identity, with who I was and where i was from. The catcalls this time ranged from”Cubana” and “Dominicana” to “Rastafari” and “Mama Africa”. Various times throughout my visit, I received the question of where I was from or what my ethnicity was. One man even assumed that I was Argentinian because of my Spanish. Another man felt inclined to tell me that, if I were to dress in a traditional djellaba, with the way I look (I’m guessing he was referring to my skin color and the shape of my eyes), that I could pass for a Moroccan and be able to walk through the streets without problem. This I had no problem with, but I have never experienced such fascination surrounding a part of me that usually not given so much obvious attention.
I don’t know if it is my dress, the color of my skin, the shape of my eyes or the way I observe the world around me that makes it so obvious that I am different from the rest of Moroccan people or at least makes them want to point it out to such a great extent. I can’t comprehend the obsession of knowing where I come from. In the United States, although there is a general curiosity when my name is mentioned, apart from this not much passing thought is given to this. But then again, in the U.S. there is a general assumption that if your skin is brown, you are African-American and that is the end of the story. At first I thought this obsession with knowing where I was from was an attempt to grow closer or to recognize a kinship with someone from another African country. But I’ve come to realize it is more of a fetish, one that men here have with women that are not their own, and two with black women whose characteristics can’t be obviously used to pinpoint their origin.