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The Carletonian

The dangers of a single story

One of the most unexpected things to happen to me this term is how much I’ve enjoyed my A&I. Taught by Professor Sandra Rousseau, “Graphic Novels of the French-Speaking World” explores nuanced, mature issues through an art typically considered “childish.” One of the greatest dangers of comics is the usage of stereotypes and propaganda. (On an unrelated note, I highly recommend the class; you will undoubtedly learn a lot and all the readings are incredibly interesting.)

So, I want to make one thing clear: these perspectives of Marrakech that I shared in my article last week, “Crying over spilled soda,” are just one side of a larger story. I wanted to call to attention the care that I had for a community that so graciously welcomed me into their home and shed light on an Indigenous community that I felt many Western media sources skimmed over. I want to emphasize, however, that I did not want to perpetuate stereotypes or static images you may have of this country. Whether I wanted to or not, it may have come across doing so. Each culture has its own nuances and stories; there are no two disasters that affect people in the exact same way. Do not mistake my opinions as fact; I’m in Viewpoint for a reason!!!

In my A&I, we’ve gone over the importance of post-colonial texts. We’re currently reading “Aya of Yop City” by Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie, a comic about the post-colonial Ivory Coast. The comic portrays the lives of Aya and her two best friends, Bintou and Adjoua. Framed almost like a soap opera, the comic follows the girls and their interactions with the other Yopagon citizens. At first, Aya is portrayed as a studious good girl, while Bintou and Adjoua are portrayed as more promiscuous party girls; however, they are so much more complex than these initial stereotypes. Through content and form, we realize these girls’ awareness of the system around them and how they manage to make their way around the world accordingly. They use the system to their advantage to find whatever happiness they desire. “With evocative, colorful images by Oubrerie and engaging characterizations by Abouet, Aya redirects our attention away from the Western media’s reductive iterations of an Africa always (and seemingly forever) mired in diseases, disasters, and death.”(McWilliams, “Sex in Yop City.”)

In a post-colonial Morocco, many Moroccans laugh at the idea of the French government aiding Morrocans. Similar to the post-colonial Ivory Coast shown in “Aya,” French culture is always looming in the background, though it doesn’t define the culture. When taking taxis to school in the morning, taxi drivers would initially assume I spoke French due to my foreign appearance, but would instantly lighten up as we began to practice our Darija with them. Once, a taxi driver even serenaded my friends and I with an Arabic song (literally my favorite memory.) Luxury establishments, or tourist traps, had more translations in French, such as Le Jardin Majorelle or Jamalfna, but most real neighborhoods had little to no French signs. In fact, in class, we learned about Moroccan movements to phase out French as the primary language learned in schools — and make no mistake, Moroccan households are very “modern.”(I use this term loosely, as I want to be careful of the way this is taken; they are modern, not Western.) My host brother knew more TikTok references than I did, and women are very much aware of the systems that shape the sociopolitical and economic spheres. My host sister, who’s pursuing a career in international business, told me that many Moroccans hated the way French news portrayed Morocco as a poor, distraught country in desperate need of saving, detailing how Moroccans actually laughed and taunted Macron’s live call to help out Moroccan citizens.

Morocco is not a helpless country. It is just a country that, just as any in this situation would, happens to need help. And they don’t want it from Westerners with savior complexes. If you fell and scraped your knee, would you take the hand of the bully that pushed you? What Moroccan communities need is the continued support from local organizations that already do incredibly important groundwork, which we can support with donations. These things are especially important to keep in mind as we review developments in the Middle East, such as the conflict between Israel and Hamas and countries that we might not have connections to or will not face real-world consequences for sharing our opinions on.


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    Shosh DworskyDec 17, 2023 at 9:44 pm

    I appreciated both articles on Morocco!
    Rabbi Shosh Dworsky
    Associate Chaplain for Jewish and Interfaith Life
    Carleton and St. Olaf Colleges