I couldn’t post this while I was still living in the country. Now that I have moved elsewhere, I can finally say something about a problem that bothered me immensely in Morocco, a nation of 33 million wonderful people, and a few thousand evil overlords operating in the police forces and elsewhere.
Racism. It’s a dirty word and an even dirtier practice. I have no patience for people who judge others solely on the basis of something as trivial as skin color. In Morocco, I witnessed it first hand many times. One of my final and most enduring images of this country was during my last week there.
I went in to the local immigration office, the department within the police which oversees resident foreigners, to get a paper I needed to export my personal belongings as I was exiting the country. I arrived at the office and noticed a long line of people waiting, so I took my place in the queue. One of the bureaucrats in charge of the office met me in the hallway and asked me why I was waiting out there with all “these” people (who all had dark skin, in contrast to my light skin), and took me in the office. I told him what I needed, he joked with me and said it would just take a moment, and he got to work, inviting me to sit in the best seat in the office.
After a few minutes, he needed to leave the office to get a signature upstairs. He left me with his assistant. It was then that I looked around the office. The assistant made a joke with me about my previous book and we both laughed. For the first time, I realized that there was still another person in the room, a young man in his early 20s sitting on the floor behind a desk. He had a gentle smile and was chuckling softly at the joke. He also had dark skin. The assistant rose from his seat and screamed at the young man, telling him to shut up and threatening to beat him senseless with a very large stick, which the assistant was now wielding and using to poke the young man in the face.
The seated youth fell silent. The bureaucrat returned with my paper. I left with a sense of powerlessness as I realized that there was little to nothing I could do to help the young man other than make his case public after leaving the country. So that is what I am doing today.
The office was in the Wilaya of Fes, in the department des etrangers. The habit of preferring white foreigners over darker skinned foreigners is endemic and can be confirmed by talking to any foreigner resident in the city. The abusive behavior I witnessed was obviously habitual and the person (the grumpy guy who sits in the far corner from the door) thought and acted as if it was totally appropriate, natural, and normal. He moved from joking with me, to abusing the young man angrily, and back to a new joke seamlessly.
I am embarrassed by my reaction. I froze into silence, intimidated by the circumstances and a fear of not being able to leave the country or being persecuted alongside others. Instead of letting that be the end, I’ve decided to do something, even if it is small, by bringing the story to light today.