Code Switching in Marrakesh

In all my years the one continent that I have always wanted to go to was Africa.  As a Black American, I have always made the assumption that my ancestors are from there.  I mean, I cannot place them specifically since I have not done a DNA test, but that’s the story I am going with until I learn otherwise.  I took an opportunity to travel to Morocco with a friend. I had an amazing experience while I was there, but there was one interaction that made me realize that when traveling as black, or a person of color, you cannot escape the stereotypes that your society places on you.  I have always expected stereotypes to be a thing in America, and I have known they occur in other countries, such as Europe or Asia; but I had this naive outlook that I would never experience stereotyping in the Motherland.

One day my friend and I ventured to the Jemaa el-Fna.  I have heard it is the busiest square in Africa, and I can definitely see why that would be the case.  I was enamored by the number of people in the square, the panhandlers, the salesmen and women getting tourists to buy nick nacks and take photos with monkeys, and the snake charmers toying with cobras.  I was that tourist that was taking it all in, taking pictures with a monkey on my shoulder and a snake around my neck. Getting in close to snap photos of a taunted cobra and capturing the locals making street food and juicing in the square.

Then we headed over to a souvenir shop and there was a Moroccan man there, if I recall correctly, he was in his early to mid twenties.  At first he greeted us with the standard greeting he gave the others pursuing the shop. He chatted up the white tourists, and then he turned his attention to me and my friend.  He asked us where we were from because our English was very good. We told him we were from the States, specifically DC for me. He was amazed, because he assumed I was from Zimbabwe—maybe my ancestors are, I don’t know.  Here is where things got interesting. As soon as he found out I was Black American, his demeanor changed, and his speech altered. He greeted me with, “what’s up my brotha!” Then proceeded to dap me up. I was in disbelief.  He code switched. He did not do this to the white tourists in his store, and he didn’t originally greet us that way. I guess he figured I was just like other black people he’s encountered, either, a) seen on TV or b) met as previous tourists since he had never been to America—something he told me.  Nonetheless, this young man went from hi, how are you, to what’s up as soon as he realized my background. He did not know if I am a person who daps or greets people as brotha or not. He made an assumption based on his finite knowledge of a group of people.

Have you ever been overseas and people say, oh yeah I watch BET or I saw XYZ movie?    Never did I imagine I would experience code switching in a location where people look similar to me.   I know that Africa is not America, but they have brown skin just like me, so surely racial, oppressive or typecasting scenarios that happen at home and other countries I have visited, would not happen there.  Well, my assumption was incorrect, and it disappointed me. It made me realize that it does not matter where we travel as black people or people of color. If you are not in the majority, whatever experience someone has for representation of your people, then that is the perception of said people.  This dictates how they expect you to act and how they choose to interact with you; and maybe that is a huge generalization on my part, but my experiences and those of my friends make it a grave reality in our world.

When you travel you are trying to enjoy, educate, and/or immerse yourself in another culture.  The last thing you want to deal with is bias, whether it be blatant or ignorant. I have come to the conclusion that the sooner we acknowledge that there is the potential for all forms of racial or ethnic bias to occur anywhere, everywhere and with anyone, the less shock and awe it will have on us.  And maybe, just maybe, the less negative impact it will have on our entire experience.

By: Undra Robinson , Co Founder of Adult Spring Break

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