Cuba Has No Racial Discrimination

April 8, 2013 |

Elio Delgado Legon

elio3HAVANA TIMES — I carefully read some articles in Havana Times that referred to alleged racial discrimination in Cuba, an opinion I disagree with completely.

It was claimed that the problem of racism is evident in our society and that none of the campaigns carried out — such as the ones at the beginning of the Revolution in 1959 — managed to banish this scourge. Nevertheless, the arguments had little value or they simply aren’t true.

For example, as a symptom of racism it’s noted that jokes are made about blacks. But it’s also true that jokes are made about people from Pinar del Rio, about people from the east of the country and about many of our characteristics and shortcomings – among both blacks and whites. We Cubans make jokes even about our own ugliness.

Another claim that’s totally false is that only white figures are highlighted in the teaching of our nation’s history. However, one of the most outstanding figures after Jose Marti is Antonio Maceo, along with his brothers and their mother, Mariana Grajales, who are highlighted as the greatest example of patriotism in our struggles for liberation.

What’s also taught is the role of Juan Gualberto Gomez in the war of 1895, in addition to Quintin Banderas, a combatant of the three wars and a participant, along with Maceo, in the Baragua protest.

Recently a documentary was shown on television about the murder of Quintin Banderas, which enhances his figure.

Nor is it true that Cuban society is viewed as a white society. Quite the contrary. Emphasis is always made on our African roots being an important element in the formation of our nation. Steps are even taken to ensure that all levels of government have an ethnic composition that corresponds to the composition of our society.

Taking a look at the Cuban educational system, those who study and sacrifice the most are those who go the farthest, regardless of the color of their skin. The only thing that separates us from each other is personal effort and our moral and ethical qualities.

It’s also not true that Cuba strives to rescue its Hispanic roots while ignoring our African heritage.

In my opinion, there’s no need to “rescue” our Hispanic or our African legacy – both are present in our daily lives. The truth is, African elements are felt more than Spanish ones, because African traditions and dances are much more represented in our folklore.

I don’t see the racial situation in Cuba as a problem that has to be treated in the National Assembly or the Communist Party Congress. Nor do I believe that black and mulato Cubans live in a racist society or that the educational system has to be changed – much less the existing social system, as is suggested in some of the articles.

In Cuban society before the Revolution, racism was manifested mainly among the bourgeoisie and the middle class, but at the level of the proletariat and the poorer classes, there were no such displays. Blacks and whites shared as sisters and brothers, at work, in the neighborhood, on the street and at school.

When the Revolution triumphed, the vast majority of the racist classes left the country. Then, with the campaigns and actions taken by the Revolution, racist institutions and discriminatory customs disappeared. In their place, racial equality was instituted.

In a referendum on the Cuban constitution, almost 98 per cent of the voters approved Article 42, which states: “Discrimination based on race, skin color, sex, national origin, religious belief or any other offense against human dignity is forbidden and punishable by law.

“The institutions of the state educate everyone, starting at the youngest of age, on the principle of the equality of human beings”

At the institutional level, the government does what’s within its power to ensure that there’s no racial discrimination of any kind.

Clearly, the social status of black citizens — culturally — continues to reflect inequalities that originated with slavery and were maintained in pre-revolutionary racist society.

The Cuban mentality has changed, but this isn’t something that’s fully achieved in a few generations. It’s a slow process. But the fact that there remain some people with racist mentalities doesn’t mean there’s a generalized problem of racism in the country.

Another claim that’s totally false is that only white figures are highlighted in the teaching of our nation’s history. However, one of the most outstanding figures after Jose Marti is Antonio Maceo, along with his brothers and their mother, Mariana Grajales, who are highlighted as the greatest example of patriotism in our struggles for liberation.

Presenting it in those terms is pandering to those who wage media campaigns against the Cuban Revolution and are always looking for a new theme to attack us with.

The first people who have to change their mentality are black citizens themselves, who often self-discriminate, lose their self-esteem and marginalize themselves.

In my view, Cuban society must be seen as a whole – with black, white, brown and Chinese members. Those who stand out in politics can become top political leaders. Those who excel in the economy can occupy high positions in that field. Those who excel in sports or culture will be great athletes or intellectuals. None require that anyone belongs to a particular race. We have thousands examples, too many to even mention.

Taking a look at the Cuban educational system, those who study and sacrifice the most are those who go the farthest, regardless of the color of their skin. The only thing that separates us from each other is personal effort and our moral and ethical qualities.

So where’s the “problem” of racism in Cuba? Only in the minds of some people.

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  • i have visited cuba several times. rarely does one see a black person in a good position in the tourist industry or at high levels in the government. there are lots of blacks, however, in the baseball serie nacional. it’s too bad that they arent allowed to pursue professional careers in the US without defecting. where are they in the hotels and paladares? even the servers in the white owned paladares are overwhelmingly white or light skinned. i once asked a cuban why there still seemed to be prejudice against blacks. his answer was “we know that not all negros are ladrones but all ladrones are negros”. i was once in havana with a black friend from new york who was favorable to the cuban revolution. we were stopped several times by police in havana vieja and they asked to see his documents, thinking he was a jinetero. their attitude was that if a black was with a white there must be some sort of problem. after about a week of harrassment he cut his trip short and left cuba with the opinion that racism was alive and well. he said he never wanted to return. none of my white friends from the states were ever questioned and neither was i. my observation was that blacks were constantly being stopped and asked for documents. perhaps cuban blacks become jineteros because they do not have the economic advantages of white cubans. of course the remittances from miami are overwhemingly from white cubans to their families in cuba. not many remittances to dark skinned people, who have fewer resources to make purchases in the foreign exchange stores. cuban authorities must do more to provide opportunities to the large black and mulatto population.

  • i commented and said i saw racism in cuba but it wasnt published.

  • Moses Patterson

    Elio, I am not even Cuban and I have experienced racism first-hand many times in Cuba. I will give you benefit of the doubt and assume you know someone black or mulatto in Cuba. You may even have black or mulatto friends. Don’t take my word for it, go ask this friend if racism exists to a significant degree in Cuba. Take a look at tne make-up of the National Ballet de Cuba, or at least what’s left of it. Mostly white. Take a walk through Miramar or El Vedado. Mostly white. Go visit any of the large tourist hotels. Who is working behind the front desks? Mostly whites. Visit the restaurants in Habana Vieja. What race are the waiters and waitresses? Mostly white. Take a walk along La Rampa. What race are the young men who the police stop and ask for ID? Mostly black. Cuba’s jail population is?….mostly black. Head out to the airport? What race are the Cubans leaving and returning to Cuba? Mostly white. I could go on and on. Forget what the constitution says. Real life in Cuba is racist.

    • Moses, I have to disagree with you on almost every level. I am a very frequent visitor to Cuba and a person with Business interests in the Country. I do agree that Racism can never really be completely removed from Society. Racism is not logical and illogical Human response is almost impossible to change.

      The Race situation in Cuba is by far the most equitable and accepting of differences in Race and Religion of anywhere I have ever been, including Canada the Country of my birth.

      If racism exists either between Cubans personally or as an entrenched Government policy I have never witnessed it. That is not to say it does not exist, just that it is so much smaller than usual as to be almost non existent.

  • principiante

    The Revolution meant a huge positive change for Cuban blacks but an insufficient one. Because the Revolution has always claimed to be the recipe for all CUban problems it has deterred open discussion of issues such as racism thus provoking its sweeping under the carpet for decades, which ended up fostering it in a way. Cuban racism is not the making of the Revolution but the Revolution certainly delayed the true fight against it by ignoring it to protect its own reputation.

    • CUBAQUS

      The revolution brought poverty for all in Cuba regardless of race.
      Blacks suffered more than other Cubans and have remained at the bottom of Cuban society in politics, economics and social life.

  • JAS

    If there is no racial discrimination in Cuba then why are most of the better tourist oriented jobs in hotels, restaurants, resorts etc., given to light skinned Cubans. It’s rare to find a dark skinned man or woman on the front line of the tourist business. Plus, one constantly hears jokes about dark skinned Afro-Cubans as if they are less than. A joke about someone from Pinar del Rio is one thing (the person can change that) as opposed to the intrinsic color of ones skin even if it be dark dark dark. I do not agree that racism is not an issue, but rather think it is a big issue BTW, how many dark skinned people are in the higher positions of the central government? Is it representative of the fact that 30% of the population is Afro-Cuban? We all know the answer – dark skinned people in Cuba are still marginalized.

  • Gordon Cubaking Robinson

    I have visited Cuba on research 78 times since 1993 and Cuba has racial problems worse than the USA !!!

  • Friedrich Joestl

    I`ve been going to Cuba for the past 10 years almost, sometimes for periods of 4 or 5 month. Racism, as mentioned here, I´ve never noticed in this form. There is individual ( not open) racism, depending on the individuals. But where is that not the case? And it has to be underlined that it is certainly not as widespread and fierce as f.e. in the US or Europe ( aslo there ists not official politics, but does exist in a very strong way, especially in countrie with a high level of immigration from former colonies, like Great Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, I´m quoting here countries considering only racism toward afro-rooted immigrants). At the other hand would it be closing the eyes to denie a n y existence of racism , although not open, in Cuba, this could be dangerous, at the other hand and I think the emphasis has to be put onto the fact that racisms never was nor is official politics and does not go along at all with any socialist identity.

  • CUBAQUS

    A lie.
    Racism is endemic in Cuba.

    This blog is dedicated to the issue of racism in Cuba:
    http://cubaracismo.impela.net/

  • Gracias, Elio for this very well proven and documented article

    Truth never hurts

    I also know that perhaps outsiders esp amerikkkans would do well to clean up their own acts before looking here..Shucks the POTUS is even targeted as are his children and family..Me thinks that its time to clean up your own act esp those fingers

  • Friedrich Joestl

    Cubaquus: you statements are like concrete. Unflexible and worthless. Please, lets talk about fact sand not talk stupid polemical Us-american propagada. I have many Cuban friends, most of them afro-cubans and mulatos. never noticed any discrimination on a large scale, individually sometimes, as I`ve already mentioned in previous commentaries. But please stop generalizing in such an undistinguished way. Sounds to me just like the unsupportable American superiority complex, which causes that the Americans are hated in most of the countries in the world,. We are trying to discuss honestly problems in Cuba, not more and not less. And problems there are in any country. So please open your eyes and don`t see everything from an anti-socialist -cuban angle.

  • Michael N. Landis

    Of course racism continues to be a problem in Cuba, even 54 years after the triumph of the Revolution, as it is here in the U.S.A., even 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation! In both instances, racism is strongly connected to class. Sometimes, those who are racist fail to recognize racism even within themselves (myself included!). In 2008, while on a road trip in Cuba, my Cuban friend cautioned me about picking up black hitch-hikers; of course I ignored his warnings. What was ironic, however, was that although he is white, (his family two or three generations removed, from its Spanish origins), his wife is black! I can point to examples of racism here in the States. In 1999, while on a trip from my home in Vermont to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, the Greyhoud bus upon which I was riding was stopped in the middle of the night in Salisbury, Maryland. Although everyone was forced off the bus, only the blacks, including grandmothers in their 70’s and 80’s, were forced to open their luggage (or had it opened for them and searched–without warrants, of course). The white state troopers and local cops did not search my luggage, or even ask for me to open it. Instead of complaining about this dual standard, however, I kept my mouth shut, since I know that giving the cops lip only results in them coming down harshly.

    In the end, it has to be more than laws which overcome racism. Only a revolution of the heart, and of the soul, will overcome racism.

  • cristian

    look i have no idea where you people are getting your information from but in cuba there is no such thing as racism and this is coming from a real cuban so get your facts straight , most of you aren’t even actual cubans . for your information i don’t think you can be racist to your own kind. in cuba everyone’s mixed, every body got black and white in them. so they treat each other with equality. everybody is like family so for all you stupid people now you know. So you should start judging and focusing on country’s with actual racist problems like the U.S