Morocco Notes: Racial Ambiguity

Earlier this summer—after a series of mass shootings, abortion bans, general heartbreak, and an excellent teaching conference—I went to a cafe to drink an iced latte and write when a white stranger walked by and called me the N* word.

I couldn’t write after that.

A few days later, I left the U.S. for Morocco. It felt appropriate. I had never been to the country before, and I had thought about visiting often while I worked on my Ph.D.

In early July, after a series of events in Rabat, my housemate declared—You are the most racially ambiguous person here.

We’ve laughed so much about it since…but it’s also true — in this part of the world.

It is not the kind of racial invisibility and intentional erasure that I still have not learned to live with in the U.S.

Rather, it often begins with an assumption and insistence of belonging followed by uncertainty — because my face and way belongs to some version of here (and there are many versions of identity here) but my words and walk betray I am from else where. I think it’s why I find joy and amusement in the confusion, and not anger or sadness.

About a week ago, I went out for a walk in the botanical garden outside my window. Right before sunset, the security guards began blowing their whistles. I continued walking and looking at the pomegranate trees until a guard waved at me indicating it was time to leave.

I asked, الوقت انتهى؟

He said, نعم … and then slowly repeated my words, الوقت انتهى

So I turned to walk back toward one of the open gates, when the guard stopped me again and asked, جنسيتك؟

I laughed. خمّن

So he said, Libyan?

I said no.

He said, Iraqi??

I said no.

He said, Emirati???

I said no.

He said, Kuwaiti??!

I said no.

He said, Well, I know you’re not Syrian—pointing out my darker features.

So I said, What about Moroccan?

He said, I thought so, but then you spoke.

I laughed and said, You’ll find my people further east.

He said, Where?

I said, Bangladesh.

And then he laughed and said, Near India!

I said yes, and Burma.

But also, I wasn’t born there. I’m from the U.S.

He was confused again.

And I said مع السلامة and تشرفنا and left the park.

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