No Purple People Here

I now know what “wheat colored” is! Yes, it was pretty exciting for me to make the connection. People here really do come in a full spectrum of shades just like back home, but here they are almost all entirely Moroccan. Though I know this, it is still hard for my brain to accept it. My brain questions what I am seeing on the furthest ends of the spectrum. For instance, when people would tell me “we have people like you here” I didn’t believe them. Being fair is very popular here, so I thought tis was some kind of wishful thinking, astagfirAllah, I was so wrong. We recently visited a mostly Berber city and sure nuff, I saw people like me who are Moroccan. And now that I am a hijabi sometimes people talk to me in Berber.

 

 A few years back I believe I mistakenly thought that the darkest of Moroccans were Sub-Saharan Africans. Now my brain tends to identify well-dressed dark-skinned Moroccans as British! At least I find my subconscious amusing, but that is some serious Orientalist thinking there. Then we have lighter skinned peoples who would be considered Black in the states based on the one drop rule. But what are they here? I’m not so sure, but I know that back home we (the white peoples) don’t talk much about these things. So my pastry lady (yes, I go to the bakery that much that I have a pastry lady and she shares a name with one of my sons!)–so I was thinking about how back home my pastry lady would be called “black” even if she was Chicana or Moroccan. But she is so not black. She is wheat! Which I have peripherally heard before but sure didn’t know what that was!

***

Since I have become fairly addicted to race (and I am so not alone), I have been thinking about Surah 49: Al-Hujratt (The Private or Inner Apartments)

YUSUFALI: 49.13

O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).

I know that when I originally read this, my feeling about it was that it meant to embrace diversity as a way to discover new things. This would mean a way to improve cultures and technologies, such as borrowing good innovations from other tribes/cultures. When I hear people say “well, that’s the way we do it” as an excuse for doing something really stupid (not different, but stupid) , not only do I want to stab myself in my eardrum, but I also think of this surah.

I would imagine that it is not uncommon for new Muslims to struggle with the literalness of the Quran. Though I wasn’t raised Christian, I had a vague understanding that the Bible wasn’t meant to be taken literally, which I now understand that for some people it is literal. I believe this affected how I originally read the Quran and even hadith.

But what about the literal meaning? Tafsir Ibn Kathir:

(that you may know one another.) refers to one’s saying, “So-and-so the son of so-and-so, from the tribe of so-and-so.” Sufyan Ath-Thawri said, “The Himyar (who resided in Yemen) dealt with each other according to their provinces, while the Arabs in the Hijaz (Western Arabia) dealt with each other according to their tribes.

Oh no. No. We (white Americans) do not do that. We are so uncomfortable talking about race that we generally do not use it for identification purposes unless we are quite uncouth. White people generally won’t say “Black Khadeja” unless perhaps they are in a private space, meaning amongst only other Whites. We wouldn’t say that to a Black person for sure. We might say “Italian so and so” if they are an exchange student or some kind of visitor by which their nationality has some special meaning. You know what I mean? But as a White woman I am far more likely to say “Khadeja Ummadam” or “Khadeja who drives the Beemer.”

I’ve noticed immigrant Muslim friends are far less shy to use nationalities or race/color to identify people. And admittedly this kind of makes me cringe. Probably I even thought it was really uncouth on their part. But that is where we are at as White Americans discussing race. Most of us really don’t want to at all.

 

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A Little Etymology: Third World

“Like the third estate, the Third World has nothing, and wants to be something,”

 ~1952 Alfred Sauvy, coiner of the term Third World. 

I’ve been thinking about how “Third World” sounds so derogatory. What does that mean? Third in relation to what? And I never hear the term “Second World,” so what does that mean? Actually, I never hear “First World” either. Perhaps because it can be assumed that all talk is about the First World unless it is identified that the talk is about the Third World (or that Second World that I never hear about)? Well. I finally took a minute to review what my friends at wiki have to say about it:

The term arose during the Cold War to define countries that remained non-aligned or not moving at all with either capitalism and NATO (which along with its allies represented the First World) or communism and the Soviet Union (which along with its allies represented the Second World).

So, you are either a good guy or a bad guy, or a nation to be conquered, colonized and absorbed into the good guys or the bad guys.

More wiki:

This definition provided a way of broadly categorizing the nations of the Earth into three groups based on social, political, and economic divisions. Although the term continues to be used colloquially to describe the poorest countries in the world, this usage is widely disparaged since the term no longer holds any verifiable meaning after the fall of the Soviet Union deprecated the terms First World and Second World.

Ah. Outdated, antiquated, derogatory or “not pc” as some may say. What are we calling these nations now?

From Apropedia: Majority world

The majority world (sometimes capitalized as Majority World) is a term used in preference to the largely inaccurate, out-of-date and/or non-descriptive terms developing countries, third world and the “South”. In the early nineties, Bangladeshi photographer Shahidul Alam [1]began advocating for a new expression “majority world” to represent what has formerly been known as the “Third World.” The term highlights the fact that these countries are indeed the majority of humankind. It also brings to sharp attention the anomaly that the Group of 8 countries—whose decisions affect majority of the world’s peoples—represent a tiny fraction of humankind.

Majority world defines the community in terms of what it is, rather than what it lacks.

Read more

Actually, I can’t think of a time when I have used the term third world, so I kind of doubt that I would even use majority world. I just wanted to know what that was all about. And now you do too 😀

Thinking About Margins

 

I visited a friend this weekend who lives about a seven hour drive from Casablanca. A couple hours of the drive were along a narrow road high (and low) in the High Atlas mountains. My husband and I joked that it was like being in an old black and white cartoon where the car always has one tire hanging off the road and defies the laws of  metal and rock while it whips around corners and sways unnaturally side to side. Our ears popped and unpopped several times as we climbed and lowered and climbed into these mountains. Standing in my friend’s home made of earth I remarked that “coming out” to see her was “like going out to the edge of the world.” As I lay in her guest room that night, it struck me that my center is off. I mean, this is The Center of the world to the people who have lived there for many generations and centuries. 

 

What if this valley was recognized as The Center of the World? What if the rest of us bent over backwards to ensure that the water in this valley was kept clean? That the children who play along the road remain safe from the strangers who venture in to see The Center? What if we fought to keep toxic food and chemicals from entering The Center? And toxic images and ideas? 

The people in this valley have recently acquired electricity and now have a regular bill to pay. A very few have internet access. I wondered what this is that is moving out to the valley. Or into The Center. Some would say modernity. But haven’t the people in The Center been modern along? Why is different often seen as bad or lesser and needing to change? 

 

This Center is really, really beautiful, masha Allah. Thanks Itto

 

Post-Racial? Really, no.

The hub spent sometime with a distant, physically and genealogically, cousin last night. This guy’s grandfather is the brother or my husband’s grandmother. The grandfather, a Berber like everyone else in the family–up until then–married an Arab woman whose family was entirely Arab–also up until then. I knew the hub’s, and subsequently our children’s, family was Berber, but I failed to know just how much Berber they were. I had mistakenly thought that this great nation which is heralded as being so rich in diversity and culture would be more racially merged than my newbie nation, which ironically likes to define its self as post-racial. Well, some of the citizens do anyways.

So this led me to think about my people. I imagined my grandmother’s sister Marie, or maybe Bernadette, marrying an African-American man way back in the 1920’s. I nearly fell over laughing thinking about. Though really it’s not so funny. Kind of frightening to think about it too hard. Still, I don’t know of any of my aunts or uncles being married to anyone other than white people. Or my cousins either. Or any of those white faces filling my family albums and geneology site pages.

Don’t get it twisted, I’m not patting myself on my back for doing something great just by marrying this guy who I liked so much–or patting him either since it seems he is the only one since his great-uncle who has married other than their own and of course this is quite different to marry a White American.

I’m just marking the pace around here. And noting my own privilege to not have even considered these things before.