White Female Singers Wanted

January 28, 2013 | Print Print |

Rogelio Moreno Manuel Diaz

rogelio2HAVANA TIMES — I saw a little sign posted at the bus stop on the corner of 41st and 42nd Avenues in the Havana municipality of Playa. Its source couldn’t have been more common: a young artistic company that needed to complete its cast and was therefore announcing auditions.

The problem appeared in a number of prerequisite physical conditions required of the candidates. The first was that any short girl — no matter how good her voice — wouldn’t be accepted (though this is somewhat common in modeling and perhaps other pursuits where it’s important for the participant to be seen from far away).

The second prerequisite, which was the most outrageous and truly intolerable, was that the young women had to be “light-skinned.”

If Whitney Houston, Rihanna, Tina Turner or Diana Ross were reincarnated in Cuba, they wouldn’t be able to audition for this company, “Habana Joven.”

I’m not saying that Habana Joven company is a conscious participant in this immorality. It could simply be that certain attitudes are internalized and become natural trends.

If they were to pass through the doors of the Mariana Grajales Theater for the audition, an employee would probably inform them that they didn’t meet the standards of that demanding group.

Perhaps if they were to undergo some whitening treatments, like those received by the world famous “King of Pop,” Michael Jackson, they might be granted an audition – but not before that.

All of this angered me enough for me to pull out my pen and write the epithet “RACIST!” on the sign.

I spent a couple of days contemplating a conspiracy worthy of a TV sitcom: a telephone call to the company, pretending to be the representative of a young woman “who sings extremely well, but is a little dark, to see if she can have a shot.”

I wanted to see out how far they were willing to go with their damned audition, but ultimately I didn’t do anything.

When I passed by that corner again, the sign was still there – along with my added comment. I tore it down and brought it home to scan it so I could produce this article.

It’s no secret that racism still exists in our society, 21st century Cuba. Education and culture can slowly reverse it, cornering it in the deepest recesses until it finally disappears.

Much has been done here along those lines, I agree, but at some point it seems we reached a stalemate and have even begun to slip backwards. Discriminatory prejudices have extended themselves to public expressions to the extent that they’re reflected on signs, like on this occasion.

Retrograde positions can be stimulated by inequalities, which are being re-established and deepened in our society. The jungle of individualism and the mercantilist paradigms that we’re beginning to focus on constitute good breeding grounds for the flourishing of self-centered attitudes.

If Whitney Houston, Rihanna, Tina Turner or Diana Ross were reincarnated in Cuba, they wouldn’t be able to audition for this company, “Habana Joven.”

These, in turn, imply using any resource that’s effective — racism, for example — for trampling on and overtaking others.

I’m not saying that Habana Joven company is a conscious participant in this immorality. It could simply be that certain attitudes are internalized and become natural trends.

People lose sight — especially if they aren’t directly harmed — of the negative potential of some positions. At the same time, they seek to accommodate these in what they believe yield greater benefits.

In this way, one might need actresses and then search for them within the prevailing archetypes of beauty. Through this, they’re engaging in prejudice and reinforcing it with their attitudes.

Government educational systems continue to be swept under by the generalized national crisis while weighed down by bureaucratic and authoritarian mechanisms petrified in time.

Little can be done to reverse the advance of the new realities, the spread of racism can’t even be contained in the classroom.

However, blaming the younger generation or their teachers for a society-wide problem doesn’t advance us one iota.

This problem, like many others, needs to be spotlighted so that it can become a serious challenge for all actors who decide to play their roles, whether in government or civil society.


What's your opinion?

  • Moses Patterson

    The reality in Cuba is that racism will liken worsen before it gets better. The regime’s tepid economic reforms will likely not do enough to rescue the failed economy (no GM bailouts here!) but these reforms will foment greater economic inequality along racial lines. This post is even sadder because the one aspect of Cuban life we assume to be least affected by racism is the arts and music. Cuban society still has many advantages over US society in terms of racism but as America improves, it appears Cuba is reversing itself and losing these advantages.

    • ac

      You may be right, but there is a basic misunderstanding in the title of this article, where it reads “singer” it should be “actress”. The text to the right of the arrow in the ad reads “actresses with singing skills and the following physical requirements”. If the position is for an specific role in a play, I don’t see a problem with it, after all a black Mary Stuart or Queen Elizabeth may be an expression of artistic freedom but is obviously inaccurate.

      In the other hand, if the ad was for a generic position, yes it is racist.

  • ac

    This article is much ado for nothing. The ad is looking for an “Actress with singing skills and the following physical attributes”, not for a singer. Instead of jumping the gun and assume racism, an unbiased reporter should ask first if the position is for a specific role that requires “fair skin” (as stated) or a general recruiting ad that would be racist and deserving scorn,

    • ac

      The rest of the ad is visible in the Spanish version of the site and it looks like they were also looking for musics and dancers, and there were no race not physical requirements for neither role, so it looks like this article is just crying for solutions to to a inexistent issue.

  • Chuck1938

    I have expressed here and elsewhere, that the greatest challenge Cuba is facing and will face in the foreseable future, is racial inequality and racism. A complicit official silence, many interested in sweeping it under the rug and an unwillingness to comfront this monstrosity head on, only helps to perpetuate and spread this tragedy.
    Food, transportation, personal goods, housing and other social ills afflicting our country, can all be solved in years, with improved financial income, better management and human development. Racism will require more than the sum of all of the above.
    Unchecked racism, will destroy the core values of our nation, as it has done everywhere else, where this malady have gone untreated. Fifty years after the promulgation of the Civil Rights in the US, the ugly face of racisms is alive and well everywhere. Segregation, ignorance, crime, drug abuse, health crisis, are all related to some some expression of racism.
    It is no accident, that after 40 years of trying to overthrow the Cuban government, the United States changed course in 1990 and focused all of its efforts in stirring up racial divisions and strife in Cuba, by training and encouraging many opportunists to take advantage, highlight and exacerbate these ills, knowing they were dwelving into fertile soil, in order to achieve thier ultimate goal.
    Sarajevo, the middle east, India, Pakistan, Chiapas and so many other places, are vivid examples of this human scourge.
    Cuba’s tragic history reflects 500 years of racial crimes, which most thought would have ended with Jose Marti magnificent lifetime efforts to erradicate from our country, when he thought us that: More than White, More than Black, More than Mulato, just say Cuban.
    We all know what followed his tragic death in 1895, General Antonio Maceo death in 1896 and the infamous Cuban-American-Spanish War of 1898, when thanks to the US first intervention, our country was saturaded with southern US racism, Jim Crow, Plantation mentality and lynching, which is best expressed in the massacre of over 3000 Blacks and Mestizos in Oriente.
    This is what is really at stake today in Cuba. Ideological differences, religious preference, political association, sexual orientation or financial crisis, dwarfs in comparison with racism, the nation catastrophic malady, which some pretend to make us believe, do not exist .

    • Moses Patterson

      I generally agree with your comment, however, I must take issue with your assertion that Cuba was ‘saturated’ with southern US racism after Cuba gained their independence. In fact, American history teaches the opposite with stories of Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders. The truth is that the Spanish were (and some say remain) among the most racist of the European countries. Indeed, the current economic struggle within Spain is largely being fought along racial lines. Colonial Spain left a much greater legacy of racism in the countries they colonized than did their Italian, Portuguese and even English colonial brothers. The reality is that Cuba abolished slavery long after the US ended slavery and did so solely for economic reasons as opposed to the marginally moral support for ending slavery in the US. The only reason that racism is not much worse in Cuba is because of the revolution. The fact is that Cuba is the ‘whitest’ island in the Caribbean. As a result, unlike the rest of the Caribbean, Cuba chooses to identify more with South America and less with their darker-skinned Caribbean neighbors, language notwithstanding. I have heard how the US has infested crops and infected mosquitos but I must admit that this is the first time I have heard that the US acted to foment racism in Cuba as a tool to destabilize the regime. Can you support this charge in any way?

      • ac

        Sorry, Moses but history is pretty clear on this point. The reason why US didn’t annexed Cuba after the war wit Spain is because Cuba had a large population of blacks and mulatoes. Probably you never heard of the Breckenbridge memorandum, but is never late to learn a little bit about the origins of the US-Cuba conflict:

        http://www.historyofcuba.com/history/bmemo.htm

        In a hindsight, the policies and practices taken during the occupation were consistent with the memorandum recommendation and from racially fair situation within the Mambi army (people were promoted by their skills, bravery and achievements, not by skin tones, birth or even nationality) and a mixed start on the original constituents, Cuba quickly degenerated into a virtual racial apartheid on economic premises (and no, Batista was a white, rich, bloodied opportunist that happened to be mulato)

        Old folks that grew before the revolution were extremely racists, specially in some specific provinces, but thanks to some of the educational programs (specifically the intern high schools where generations of youth spent lots of time together generating interpersonal links and breaking prejudices) the divide was closed to the point were racism was anything but inexistent.

        That’s why stories like this smell fishy to me to begin with.

        • Moses Patterson

          Nice try, ac. Are you an American? Most Americans who went through high school social studies learned how this alleged letter has never been proven authentic.

          http://jerrysierra.com/green/Writings/Breckenridge-1.html

          On the other hand, as I suggested in my original comment, the legacy of racism left by the Spanish colonials is a proven fact all over Latin America. Nonetheless, I think we agree that racism exists in Cuba. I have personally been a victim of that racism. I hope that as Cuba struggles for greater political freedoms, that the scourges of racism be eliminated along the way.

          • ac

            Who knows the truth after that long, but at least the sender, receiver and content are congruent with the historical persons and the recommendations included matches the policies taken by the US officers.

            Also, I don’t see a reason of why they would make a forgery of this kind in 1908; the Platt amendment was in full effect and other than ill will towards US government (completely unnecessary, after the taking out of the main assets and the intervention of 1906 the US got plenty of bad rep by themselves) there was nothing else to gain from it and it would not advance the goals of any Cuban political organization at that time.

  • Chuck1938

    Dear Moses,
    There are hundreds of supporting evidence of the introduction and effects of southern racism and its adverse impact on Cuba, which goes from, Teddy Roosevelt using the black soldiers in San Juan hills to soften the Spanish Army, therefore, causing greater casualties on these soldiers than on his white army who entered combat towards the end and his opposition to the entry of the Cuban Army (70% black) into the surrendering and signing ceremonies in Santiago de Cuba, explains clearly his objectives.
    Pinar del Rio stands today as a result of such racist policies, when at the end of the war and during the occupation, the US occupiers decided to “bleach” Cuba by stimulating the migration of over 100,000 Canarians, who received plots of lands and other “start up” facilities, as opposed to tens of thousands of blacks and mulato members of the Cuban Army of Independence who received nothing, after this corps was forcefully dismantled, replaced by a thugish Rural Guard, where blacks could not rise above the rank of lieutenant and a police and artillery force, that rejected blacks, all of this under the watchful eyes of the US occupiers (1898-1902). Caribbean immigration was simultaneously prohibited for years, in order to keep the racial imbalance in place.
    Had Jose Marti, Antonio Maceo lived through the end of the war, I can safely assume, the US invasion would not have occured or succeeded nor would they allow the imposition of racial segregation they fought against all of their lives. The level of racism and apartheid in Cuba following 1898 is a carbon copy of Mississippi, Alabama or Florida until recent years.
    No doubt the enormous efforts and partial success in this area in Cuba since 1959, have meant enormous success for hundreds of thousands of blacks, myself included. Much, much more must be done, for the wellbeing and survival of an entire nation or risk this malady become its achiles tendon.

    • Moses Patterson

      Very interesting. I will make the effort to learn more about Cuba from this perspective. Thank you.