HAVANA TIMES — I was surprised to discover that an official media platform such as that of Trabajadores weekly newspaper, had denounced an act of racial discrimination which is being investigated by the Attorney General of Cuba.
The accuser is Danay Aguirre Calderin, a law student at Havana University. According to her testimony, she took a taxi in Marianao and half-way along her route, she decided to get out a couple of stops beforehand. The driver shouted that “every time a black person gets in his car it was the same story and that’s why he couldn’t stand them.” He ordered her to get out of his car before reaching the destination she had asked to go to and he said that “he didn’t want black people in his car.”
The fact that somebody has behaved in this manner and said these kinds of things doesn’t come as a surprise at all. I have heard statements like these for decades now and no legal action has been taken.
In the ‘80s, I experienced a similar event. I was traveling in a taxi from Old Havana and the driver stopped in front of a young black man who was flagging him down. He told him that he would pick him up as soon as he dropped me off, which the man seemed to agree to. When the car took off again, he blurted out angrily: “Let him stay there waiting, I don’t let black guys into my car…” I was left dumbfounded and the man continued to tell me how some black passengers had lured him into a dark place where other accomplices were waiting and they beat him up with sticks and tubes. They fractured several of his ribs and it was a miracle he survived. All of that just to rob the money he had on him.
Some time ago, I heard about a taxi driver who was ambushed on Alamar hill and he was killed after being tortured with particular cruelty. I don’t know what race the criminals were of this attack because such news, as you might know, isn’t covered by government media.
With such precedents, resentment and prejudice have some firewood. However, stereotypes are pervese and do nothing to help but just found myths where there is no room for truth.
The question that comes to my mind is why? If ever since I was a little girl, school instilled in me the knowledge that racial discrimination had been wiped out in Cuba, yet I have been witness to so many racist displays ever since I can remember.
Why have I never heard about someone being arrested for racist remarks? Why does everything normally remain as a discussion, sometimes even physical aggression, personal protest, whispers?
Why were we never taught at school that, given the fact that the Revolution had wiped out racism, everyone who was a victim of racism to whatever extent, could turn to the law?
Why did the young woman go to the “Letter to the editor” section to put in her complaint? The publication and debate about the event is appropriate, but does racism exist as a legal figure?
A neighbor told me how her son, a young black boy, had left his bike on the lower floor in a building, had gone to one of the apartments higher up and watched how a blonde boy got onto it and disappeared in front of his eyes without him being able to get down the stairs in time to try and catch up to him. As a result of his report, he was called to the police station several times where he was shown photos of alleged suspects of the theft: they were always black individuals. He emphasized the fact that the thief was a “natural blonde”, of the rare breed that we find on this island, but it was to no avail. He ended up not going to the police station anymore and gave up on waiting for justice.
It’s a well-known fact that black people, mulatos or people with dreadlocks, are asked for ID on the street a lot more by the Police, as if they had received very exact orders against them.
I am reminded of a racist joke that I used to hear as a little girl: “Agostinho Neto, the man with black balls…” The phrase was a kind of retaliation against government media about socialist presidents who came to visit us, and whose sessions in August didn’t change the country’s unstable economic landscape. It was an expression of the lack of faith people have in the system and it was an escape valve to let off some of the political indoctrination’s steam.
But, at school even, we were forced to sing: “Ai, ai, ai la chambelona, Nixon doesn’t have a mother because an ape gave birth to him…”
A derogatory language was instilled in us for political figures that represented countries which are allegedly the enemy. Mockery, a lack of respect and a lack of ethics were encouraged as our legitimate right.
We were taught to harrass anyone who official discourse chose as the bullseye for their attack. That could be rockers, the homosexual, the intellectual, the artist… Anyone who reported a shortcoming of the Revolution, because in the sick vision imposed on us, everything bad (or good) wiped out by it, would be gone forever, like the effect of a nuclear weapon.
The Revolution, which we have inherited without asking for it, seemed to hold a double meaning of objective country and subjective homeland. This appeared to include the collective self and the individual, which makes up our creed and the foundation of our principles, but hasn’t taught us anything about inalienable human rights. Rights which don’t depend on an ideology and aren’t subject to the ups and downs of politics.