"Misconceptions about Morocco, Moroccans, and Moroccan Culture" by Isabella Dominique
After having lived in Morocco for a few months now, I have come across several misconceptions about life in Morocco. In this blog, I discuss each of these misunderstandings and how life really is.
One of the biggest assumptions I had made about Morocco was about the harassment. I was told by many people (including past AMIDEAST students, the internet, and other advisers) that harassment in Morocco would be worse than anything I have ever experienced. Given what I had been told, I imagined flocks of men chasing me and my friends down the streets of Rabat. I imagined that I wouldn’t be able to walk alone or in peace. In reality, I feel very comfortable living in Rabat.
I understand and recognize the privilege I have with my skin tone and hair type as many Moroccans mistake me for being Moroccan myself. I know there are other students in my program that have experienced far more harassment because they simply look more “American” or foreign. However, there is still a consensus from most of us girls here that the harassment is not as bad as we had predicted it would be.
On that same note, I thought that general danger in Morocco would be far more of an issue than it is. This is not to say that if you chose to travel here that you should not take precautions, but instead that we as Americans have a tendency to think that many countries that are not our own are more dangerous. While you should definitely make smart decisions about keeping your valuables in safe locations while out-and-about, it is (in my opinion) about the same level of precaution you should exercise in most major cities in the US.
I remember when I was packing for my move to Morocco and I was nervous about bringing appropriate clothing. Many people on the internet wrote blogs about what to wear, and I truly assumed it would be a big adjustment and big ordeal. However, it is relatively easy to dress yourself appropriately.
Morocco is a fairly liberal country and most women wear Western clothing styles just like we do. If you wear a dress, simply put leggings under it (which is nice anyway because it’s not that warm here) and just avoid shorts. Other than that, it’s not as serious as most websites and people make it seem. You can wear short sleeves and plenty of girls wear tighter clothes. I enjoy dressing myself here because I don’t feel any pressure to wear short-shorts and the smallest shirt I own whenever the weather gets nice. I’ve been able to dress more comfortably without feeling societal pressures to show more skin.
Racism and Microaggressions in Morocco
As a black girl traveling to a new country, I am always curious to see how issues of racism manifests itself in every day life. Life here is far different from that within the US. I benefit from having light skin in both countries, but that privilege represents itself differently in Morocco.
Moroccans are unsure about my race – some know that I’m African-American, some think I’m one of their own, and others are simply unsure. This is to say that I have not experienced much harmful racism directed at me, but I have seen harassment and bias certainly take place against other folks with darker skin tones. Many Moroccans claim that there is no racism here like there is in America. They say, “We are all Moroccans here.” However, I have seen serious cases of racial profiling and discrimination in the airports, in taxis, and by regular people on the street. Racism and colorism certainly exist in Morocco.
How Moroccans Perceive Americans
One of the things I was most surprised by was the misconception many Moroccans have of America. I think this is largely due to the movies and music videos that ultimately become the depiction and showcase of American culture. Based on the majority of my conversations, many Moroccans think that America is far more liberal than it really is (and not in terms of politics).
One of my friends told me that she thought that Americans were comfortable with their bodies and were often half/naked in public. She also said that she felt that we Americans have countless genders. I had to explain to her that while there is a large population of Americans who may fall into a more liberal lifestyle, there are still a LOT of Americans who don’t understand gender fluidity and who may not be as comfortable with showing a lot of skin.
I also teach English at a small center and my students are about the same age as me. We were once talking about education systems in both countries and almost everyone said that they liked the American system better. However, the systems were quite similar. They identified issues with the private school system and the costs – both of which are major issues in the US that destroy communities and prevent opportunities for higher education. I think that many Moroccans have this notion that America is liberal, crazy, party heavy, and even more equitable to a degree. However, both countries have a lot more similarities than we really understand or know.
It has been interesting having my perceptions challenged every day here. I am happy knowing that the harassment is not as bad as I imagined it would be and I love knowing that dressing here is not as stressful as I thought it would be. However, I was not expecting the racism to be as blatant as it has been for some of my peers. There are, of course, positives and negatives to every place you will visit. These are simply the perceptions that I had prior to coming here and also my own experiences. Every AMIDEAST student here has probably experienced something different. I personally love living here and am sad to leave in a month!