13 December 2012

A Mistake I Made

On a list I read today about events that are "guaranteed" to happen to you in your twenties (only 7 have happened to me so far, oh goodness me, I must not be normal...), the event that stuck with me as I was pedaling my way to school was "You’ll read a book that will change your life."  Setting aside for one moment the fact that I read dozens of books that changed my life before I turned 20, or that yes, I actually am "that book's bitch" of the one that did change my life in my twenties, I also realized that perhaps the 'book' I read that changed my life was actually many series of blogs and online 'long read' articles.

In reading a collection of the best long reads of 2012 (related to the MENA region of course), I have come across many posts about and by Moroccans.  I discovered a woman, Laila Lalami, who, in her post that I read, made imagine that if I have half-Moroccan children, maybe they will one day be like her, devouring novels in French (though I hope mine would devour them in Arabic and English too), sitting on the ponj at night between two parents engrossed in novels, and getting lost in a book under a tree in Ifrane.  If only the real world could have such an idyllic combination of what I love about Morocco and what I love about being American (and if only this daydream didn't firmly cement my place amongst Orientalists in the minds of critics).

After getting temporarily lost in the maze of the interwebs, I returned to the list to discover yet another life-changing blog entry.  Well, maybe just slightly life-diverting-from-the-path-I-would-have-already-taken blog entry.  Here, besides making me feel inadequate about my command of the English language, as well as Darija, the author makes me realize that, by initially going into Morocco as a volunteer, and basically being groomed to be a diplomat, I was sheltered just like all the other Moroccan girls in my town from all the true, innovators, and minorities in Moroccan society, except for the poor.  I say this because she dissects a song by a hip-hop artist who I was told not to like, who I was told said "bad words" and "bad things" and thus, I assumed, still seeing life through my American white-girl lens, that they meant he was simply swearing and talking about 'bitches an' hos'.

Never did I consider that maybe by "bad things" people meant criticizing the system, pointing out urban poverty, and telling a story from the view of a disillusioned suicide bomber.  I did myself a disservice by not investigating what I was told not to, by not remember how my education and my religion had taught me to always question the status quo and make that 'preferential option' for the marginalized just as much as it taught me to be a diplomat and to listen and reflect before acting.

From her article, in my never-ending struggle to make up for recognize my white, first-world privilege  I will hold on to this paragraph, that reminds me of my friends from SalĂ©, and how they are so easily able to identify their place in the world, and surprise every new group of American students with the keen and perhaps poignant awareness of the responsibility/burden they will always have of defending Morocco/Arabs/Islam/brown-people-in-general:

Bigg’s character feels the gap between not just his life and those of the Moroccan “bourgeoisie,” but also those of the “developed” world.  Media glorifying the local and global haves on the other end of that gap is all around him—including the famous rappers he loves. I n a situation perhaps reminiscent of W.E.B. DuBois’ observation regarding African-Americans at the turn of the 20th century, Moroccans live a kind of “double consciousness.”  As (mostly) Muslims who (mostly) claim Arab descent, they know with DuBois how it feels “to be a problem.”  As a result of decades of colonial domination and “developing nation” status, Moroccans always have to be able to read the local through the eyes of “the global”—which generally means the global North. 

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