Race Matters in Cuba

July 3, 2009 |

By Sandra Alvarez Ramirez*

Blacks have been the main ones who have helped to examine diverse topics of this Cuban social reality. Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, July 3 (IPS) – A recurrent fallacy in the discussion of racial consciousness being raised in Cuba at the moment is the fact of speaking only about that which concerns blacks when dealing with the issue of race.

It is as if restricting the analysis of what is occurring to negritude. This aspect can be explained by the fact that black people, for the most part, have been those who have historically experienced the particularities of racism and racial discrimination in Cuba, and how this has soaked deeply into current Cuban society.

Blacks have been main ones who have helped to examine diverse topics of this Cuban social reality, such as the treatment of black people by the media and in publicity, especially the female body; black aesthetics; the role of the family in the formation of racial identities; slavery in the establishment of racist thought; discriminatory stereotypes present in the social imagination, the participation of black people and mestizos in the nation’s history, the social representation of black men and women, among other themes.

Another of the controversial questions related to racial consciousness is which name should be used when one speaks of black people?  “A person of African descent,” “Afro-Cuban” or simply “black” are the variety of available nouns, each of them having a specific particularity with differentiated connotations.

I believe that there could be many variants and positions, and the sole fact that a person decides to describe themself in a certain way makes the term valid.  In no way do I believe that the self-description of a person of African descent or Afro-Cuban is copying the African-(US)-American pattern, or anything of that manner. Each is entitled to be named as they desire.  Identity exists so that people can exercise it in their favor.

Color Absent from Cuban Schools

Another of the recurrent questions is the posing of the racial question as if it were only of interest to black people and mestizos. White supremacy has not only pushed blacks to the periphery, but also those issues that could interest them.

The statement “I don’t have anything to do with that, I don’t feel racism” alerts us that there are those who do not recognize that this is a concern for everyone, given that in the established relations of subordination there are those who hold the power and those who do not, generating inequities that are expressed in very diverse forms.

The following anecdote illustrates the situation: recently, during the presentation of a compilation of works on negritude by Nicolas Guillen, one person on a panel suggested that a copy of the book be given to every black child in the country, because (supposedly) it was written for them by our national poet. Beyond my thoughts on this matter, it is important to highlight how still – in the current Cuban discussion of race – people continue to think of black issues, race matters and racial discrimination as a “black problem.”

The above-mentioned is very subtle and sophisticated evidence of this. Fortunately, before the conclusion of the activity, someone on the same panel highlighted that such a volume should be provided to every Cuban young person, regardless of their race, because the racial question in Cuba is a problem for everyone.

In this same vein, the recurring phrase “we’re all same” no longer convinces many, because in reality, this supposed equality has its paradigm in whiteness. Whenever we speak of a human being, we universally think of someone who is white; this explains the blindness that many have when it comes to skillfully detecting when racist prejudice is being used to evaluate human behavior.

As professor and intellectual Esteban Morales put quite clearly, in Cuba color is not mentioned in our primary schools, nor is there a scientific discussion of the theme; therefore, people are by default educated to be white, once again supremacy is white. This is, for us, evidence of institutionalized racism by omission.

Neo-Racism Cuban Style

The previous aspects are expressions of racial prejudice, even when some are so sophisticated that they end up constituting a type of “neo-racism Cuban style,” with it being masked, mutated and transmuted due to the lack of open and recalcitrant discriminatory manifestations, like those expressed in some other countries (against indigenous women, for example).

White supremacy has not only pushed blacks to the periphery, but also those issues that could interest them. Photo: Caridad

Nevertheless, there still remain certain biologically-oriented theories, recently confirmed by me and having a marked retrograde character; these reproduce old hypotheses now rejected by the natural sciences for quite some time, if not centuries.

The existence of such arguments (which range from explanations of why blacks are not or cannot be excellent dancers in Cuba’s classical ballet to reasons why few are not part of our national aquatic sports team) also alert us of the permanency of a racism that we had come to believe had been eradicated from our social mind set.

Careful! Such asseverations can be very harmful when they are offered by scientific assessments, and we now know the damage that can be done by science (or rather pseudo-science) in the establishment of discrimination between human beings.

In this same manner, if we analyze the currently existing stereotype about the hyper-sexuality of women of African descent, sustained in the belief that black people are closer to primates and therefore to nature, it is as if they were more primitive, more savage and less educable.

This, together with the opinions of biological theorists, can lead us to understand how racist and sexist prejudices can be interrelated and result in arguments that are fully discriminatory and very difficult to dismantle or deconstruct.

*Excerpt from an Inter Press Service News Agency (IPS) article by Sandra Alvarez Ramirez, a Cuban psychologist.  Translation from Spanish to English by Havana Times.

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What's your opinion?

  • I believe that everyone is free to have their own opinions. In my opinion all races and colors are equal.
    Consequently I am delighted that anyone can visit with me. I also believe that any country in entitled to have whatever kind of government they choose.

    Mi gusto amigos. No necesito enemigos

    Robert

    • :a Cubana de matanzas

      Fortuantely i like it like it is I do not want to be compared to any colonizers children leave me alone I am habby as an Afrikan cuban

  • What Robert has said is true. However, lets look at another side of the Race issue in Mi Kuba.
    Where the world is free to have opinions, opinions do not make the wholesale exclusion of a people right., legal or ethical it simply allows for biz as usual?
    So, how do we as intelligent peoplevcounter this phenomena ? We do this thru education, less blame, more listening etc.
    What i have discovered is that the discussion of race is a painful discussion for two main reasons,
    1 .the blame which is placed on others perhaps without reason (ie what was perpetrated by our ancestors etc)
    2. The failure of AfroCubans, to dissallow so called endearments negro,negrito negrazo prieto etc..entiendes? further allowing racism to fester and remain imbedded in ones psyche. Of course..fear stifles ones voice, which i am thrilled like Thriller! has never been my case.
    http:// kashaheru.graciasfidel@blogger.com
    oyeafrocubanosrepresent.blogspot.com/

  • i am a member aof the world citizenry club and in this capacity it is my obligation and my right! to spktruth2empowerment because.. We are the world, We are the people and if it is to be.. it is up to WE..Like we the people.
    Personally i will not allow endearments like those described above. My family has taught all of us to only accept that which was given to us..Our legal name. A name means much in our culture.ex. Milagros means miracle and i am the miracle to my parents as i am the only female. This has been a wonderful situation for me because as the only female, i am as vociferous as any of the 7 sons + father in my home i have been taught via MLK non vilolence programs to stand up for myself, my people, and my country(and Fidel) lol i have also been taught to stand up for what is right, while refusing to accept piecemeal or quarter.

    Proudly AfroCuban/Cuban Milagros Perez Hererra Garcia Vega Villamil

  • Last, the exclusion of AfroCubans in anything Cuban is banned by Fidel? and the reason why it still exists is the failure of thise in power..YES!! Fidel/Raul..to enforce the laws, and the failure of artists to become LOUD and ROWDY in a non violent manner..Now before you jump the gun, i still love respect and admire Fidel, this will never change..However, i do believe in free speech, action and rhe human rights of all people,. I want this as bad as any Cuban nd perhaps more. However, i refuse to accept any intervention by any FOREIGN nation to dictate rules to KUBA! entiendes
    Didn’t know this did ya? Read my blogs..

  • As an Atty and former nurse i have seen racism in all of its forms, health ,law, social serv ,human serv etc on and on.
    However, when in law shool i was forced by the curriculum to reexamine the complex argument about racial supremacy and the fact that it was interlaced within the founding assumptions of Western civilization, this point can be made simpler if one reads The white race” what the author called a priviledged subset of the population. Stanfield the author provides a good working model as he examines the origins of racism.
    However, i choose to use lit that is penned by those who have first hand info about the terror, exclusion and the continued denial of our humanity
    Pierre Sarduy
    Gloria Rolando
    Carlos Moore
    Having shared my opwn perspective, i accept that others may choose thier own authors etc. Lets just all be reminded that after all of the reading juxtaposing etc ..RACISM IS STILL HERE. it covertly/overtly comes from within as well as without.

  • no necesite a enemigos…
    robert you almost have it down..keep it up

  • There is an old saying in the US:

    White folks have no rhythm.

    Then listen to Michael Jackson, and the people who important players of Cuban Jazz.
    They have produced the most beautiful Jazz in the world.

    There is another kind of Jazz that they play in New Orleans.

    Quess what? White folks don’t have that kind of rhythm.

    Bob

  • James Burns

    “Whenever we speak of a human being, we universally think of someone who is white”

    hmmm… I’m not sure who we is, but I suspect that assertion is incorrect. I personally think of a shape instead of a color, as “a human being” is far too vague. If someone refers to humanity, then I think of a mosaic of colors and features. Perhaps I’m unusual. As for the proper term to refer to black people, I think the author is right in that it should be determined by the person being referred to. A former girlfriend of mine, who is black, hated the prefix Afro- as she felt it was an American invented term, and being British, she did not want to be associated with Americans.

    Racism, however, is still a problem everywhere. And it is also true that black people usually bear the brunt of the worst of it. At least that is certainly my experience in seeing the kind of racism people very close to me, who are black, have experienced, and not just from whites, but from every color including…

  • Milagros Garcia Villamil

    Robert
    WTF?
    Racism and rhythm only relate in one way and that is both begin with the letter R.
    However, as a matter of fact as a former dancer i have met many people worldwide that have rythum. Rythum comes from the soul and spirit, it emanates from feelings that come forth when one hears a sound which makes the foot move or touches a place where happiness resides. All people worldwide have this..Watch the Russian dancers when u get there..They have rhythm …thier own..
    Its like another falsehood /white boys can’t jump ..remember Pete Maravich, John Havilchek John stockton, Dirk Navitsky and my favorite Steve nash..They jumped and even have rings?

  • Milagros Garcia Villamil

    James your point is well taken however, with respect, i also do not like any assoc with america.
    i am a Cuban stolen from Africa. amerikkka fortunately never invented anything because Alkebulan (real name for Africa, before they colonized it) As a british woman your former gf point is overstood however, Britain caused more harm to Africa than any other nation which still today smacks with racism abound. i lived in GB for yrs as a youngwoman and the only black women who did not relish being called Afro were the light skinned ones who thought they were white or passed. Britain like Portugal, spain (moors) italy Germany etc took language religion & culture from its slaves so it was not hard to force denial of the ROOT!..Your GF was an african descendant possibly in denial Gb had more assoc with slavery

    A former girlfriend of mine, who is black, hated the prefix Afro- as she felt it was an American invented term, and being British, she did not want to be associated with Americ

  • Milagros Garcia Villamil

    The author states that >Each is entitled to be named as they desire. Identity exists so that people can exercise it in their favor.
    i say> Identity only exists when it involves acceptance of our humanity. For far too long many African Cubans have accepted being obselete dangerous and non existant in the eyes of our own Countrymen? What i have discovered is that for the most past African Cubans are still awaiting recognition and acceptance from others. So my questions becomes what is there left..We already have given up language, culture and religion? Whos is to define us if not we, and when will we accept that we were kidnapped by the British, Germans, Spanish Portuguese, French and made slaves losing all.i say They stole it and we must return it.
    FOR ME TO HAVE TO EXIST VIA ANOTHERS IDENTITY IS INANE AND LUDRICROUS

  • James Burns

    Milagros, no she brought up many stories about the the racism in the UK, and she was well aware of the history. It was mostly that her personal experience of the US was that the racism was far more extreme. She also knew both white and black Africans, as well as Arabs from northern parts of Africa, and felt that what she identified as the American habit of placing Afro as a prefix denied identity to whole populations of Africans who weren’t black. And she didn’t like being identified as American. Unfortunately the end of my first post was cut off. I had mentioned racism I had observed, and I was going to mention racism I had seen amongst blacks. It had to do with how light or dark skinned they were. Those who were darker accused the lighter of wanting to pass, and often made vicious accusations. Those who were lighter would make skin jokes about the darker. Given the racism both light and dark experienced from others, I always thought the in-fighting was terribly unfortunate.