“And what about in the US, are people pretty racist?” This is just one of the many tough questions that a group of Moroccans have directed at me, the only American in the group, at AMIDEAST’s most recent cultural dialogue session. Every Wednesday, Americans from the education abroad program and a group of Moroccan professionals, university students, and even some high schoolers, meet up at some unspecified location in Rabat to dig deep about differences and similarities in culture and values in the US and Morocco. We talk about everything. Or at least, everything that is often difficult to discuss- modernity, tradition, migration, immigration, racism, gender. Basically any topic people tell you to avoid while at a dinner party, we discuss.
As the only American in the smaller group that we have broken off into, I feel a weight of responsibility. These Moroccans are looking at me to respond honestly to questions about American culture. I often walk the fine line between explaining the situation in a neutral way, including my own personal beliefs, and trying to break down broad, overgeneralized stereotypes that may exist. It’s no easy task. As soon as I heard this question about racism, my brow furrows as my mind flurries with different thoughts so that I can articulate a response in an accurate way. Everyone at the table watched as my face goes from relaxed to concerned, and bursts of laughter break out. “So that’s a yes”, someone at the table says.
I can hear my heart pounding. “Yes…” I start, “There is racism in the US”. I launch into an explanation- that while everyone is equal under the law, the law isn’t always applied equally to everyone. That there are people who still do show outwardly racist opinions, but that they are becoming more and more of a minority as time goes on. That most people support equal rights for everyone and don’t believe people should be discriminated against because of their skin color. That the problem lies in remnants of institutionalized racism and that even today the system can favor those with lighter skin.
Even as I finish my explanation, I feel nervous. I’m privileged in that as a white person, I have never been discriminated against due to my skin color. How can I possibly be qualified enough to discuss racism? What experiences validate my thoughts on this subject? How can I possibly represent well all the issues surrounding race in America? Did I give these people an accurate representation of racism in America- did I underestimate it, or make it seem as though America was filled with racist bigots? There is no one right response to these questions, but there are plenty of wrong ones.
Luckily, when cultural dialogue sessions become too much, we all know how to blow off some steam together. Talking about these questions is no easy task, so instead of sweating because of the questions directed towards us, we go sweat it out on the soccer field. Nothing brings together people from different cultures more than making fun of the girl who attempted to kick the ball but ended up sprawled on the field on her back (me).