One of the very first things I did when I moved to Casablanca was buy a street map. The in-laws, kindly, suggested that I not actually read it in the street, because–you know–it would make me look more like a tourist and thereby make me more susceptible to unwanted attention. So last week when I saw a young couple reading a map together on a corner, I took notice of them and their touristy ways. Then I wondered if maybe they were Moroccan (yes, I’m a bit of a lookie-lou) and thought that he could probably pass, but even though there are people here of all shades, she just looked too European and then they were out of sight and out of mind.
Just a few streets down–wow– I saw another couple and a map! I’ve never seen people reading maps on the street before and now two in a row! But this time, the first thing that “innocently” popped into my mind was “prostitute.” Sit with that a second.
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There are various rumors and urban legends about prostitution here in Morocco. There are rural areas that are reputed to be known for having many prostitutes. There are rumors about wealthy Arabs touring the country for solely for the purpose of soliciting. Then there is the rumor about sub-Saharan women (read Black) coming to Morocco to prostitute.
The couple on the corner was a Black woman–probably not Moroccan because she had extensions and Moroccan women don’t generally have them–and the man was a chubby white guy who was a little older than her. It is very likely that this was another European or maybe American or whatever couple–maybe not even a bonafide couple–but what obviously left an impression in my head was the rumor–and stereotype–that Black women come here to prostitute themselves.
I can already hear the skeptics, supporting me and my racist thinking. Whether or not the rumor is true is not the point and comments should not address that aspect, because that is derailing. I can also hear my/your inner racist demanding “Well, so what?” It’s not like I said anything or did anything. But I could have had I been in a position to interact with them. It could have been something as uncontrollable as a questioning look to a more “knowing” dirty look, shake of the head, click of the tongue, snide comment and so on. I feel it’s safe to say that if this couple goes about as a couple at all, it is likely that someone has acted on either that specific stereotype or some related trope.
I’m sure that I have acted on a stereotype or racist idea before. One isn’t immediately coming to mind, but being in Morocco I know that I have had quite a few Orientalist thoughts pop to the front of my brain and I must have acted on them somehow. Perhaps I am more inclined to act on them when they remain subconscious, but I am not sure and that is why I keep trying to recognize my isms when I notice them–so that I can correct myself.
Lately, a frequent ism I see popping up in my mind is my ableism. I’m not very well versed in ableism at all and have only just recently begun to notice my own ableism. It usually pops up regarding mental health. For instance, this weekend I was reading about this medical condition that may be a physical condition, but is often thought to be a mental disorder. I read a statement from a woman who says that it is a physical condition and she sufferers from it. Now, I am completely unsure about whether this condition is “real” or not, but because this woman is a famous singer from the sixties my brain did this super fast strawman/Rochard thing that looked like–”singer from sixties/must be burnt out stoner/therefore crazy.” This isn’t the first time I have noticed myself dismiss someone or their opinion based on a bias towards mental illness/disability.
Logically I know this is ridiculous, but since I have “caught” myself thinking this way I must–on some level–either believe or (hopefully) do some sort of auto-regurgitation of the ism ideas which I have been indoctrinated with–both the idea that Black women are “hotter” and more sexually promiscuous (again, I get that is all very conflated and wrong–that is the stereotype) and that people with a mental disorder/illness are not as accountable as say–me. Sheesh. That’s some ugly stuff. As difficult as it is for me to write about these things, I am really thankful that I am beginning to “see” them more clearly.
Anyway, for now, let’s consider why it is so important to recognize these little racist (and other ist) thoughts that surface through from my/our unconsciousness.
Although they may appear like insignificant slights, or banal and trivial in nature, studies reveal that racial microaggressions [racial transgressions] have powerful detrimental consequences to people of color. They have been found to: (a) assail the mental health of recipients, (b) create a hostile and invalidating work or campus climate, (c) perpetuate stereotype threat, (d) create physical health problems, (e) saturate the broader society with cues that signal devaluation of social group identities, (f) lower work productivity and problem solving abilities, and (g) be partially responsible for creating inequities in education, employment and health care.
Acting on stereotypes in anyway hurts people in many ways. And again, we can’t change our behavior unless we identify it, so please don’t tell me that I’m not racist. Go identify some of your own isms. Further reading:
A brief history of how white people created and maintain the Over-Sexualized Black Woman trope aka Jezebel,The Jezebel Stereotype at the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia
Historically, White women, as a category, were portrayed as models of self-respect, self-control, and modesty – even sexual purity, but Black women were often portrayed as innately promiscuous, even predatory.
An explanation of how well-meaning white folks (and others) unknowingly commit racial transgressions all.the.time. Racial Microagressions in Everyday Life
In our 8-year research at Teachers College, Columbia University, we have found that these racial microaggressions may on the surface, appear like a compliment or seem quite innocent and harmless, but nevertheless, they contain what we call demeaning meta-communications or hidden messages.