Questions of Race (II)

Daisy Valera

Esteban Morales. photo: Patricia Grogg, IPS

Last Sunday, a panel discussion and debate took place on “education as the decisive factor in the struggle against inequality, prejudice and racial discrimination.”

The forum was organized by the La Cofradia de la Negritud (The Negritude Brotherhood) and was held in the La Ceiba Community Center in Havana.

La Cofradia de la Negritud is an organization that for several years has sought to highlight issues related to racial prejudice and discrimination in Cuba.

The panel consisted of Dr. Lydia Turner, the honorary president of the Association of Cuban Educators; Dr. Esteban Morales, a professor at the University of Havana; and Rodrigo Espina, a researcher with the Juan Marinello Institute of Cuban Cultural Research.

All those present reaffirmed the idea that the problem of racism is palpable in our society and that no campaign undertaken since the beginning of the 1959 Revolution has been able to eradicate this disease.

Racism in Cuba is something that one notices from their earliest years in school.  Jokes are made, such as when someone does something wrong they’re asked why they don’t “do it like a white person,” since it’s assumed that blacks do everything poorly.

In the teaching of history, white figures are placed on pedestals while little importance is given to black leaders of our independence struggle, just as there’s little discussion of movements headed by blacks – such as El Partido de los Independientes de Color (the Independent Party of Color).

Many of those in attendance agreed that Cuba is a society that’s seen as white, despite the fact we’re a Caribbean country with a high percentage —if not a majority— of black and mestizo residents.

In present day Cuba there’s a struggle to rescue our Hispanic roots but at no time is there mention of rescuing our Africanism.

Likewise, the presentation on the radio, television or in the press of works relating to this issue are at best rare.

It was concluded at the forum that the problem of racism in Cuba should begin to be dealt with in the heart of organizations such as the National Assembly, the Communist Party and others like the neighborhood-based CDRs (Committees for the Defense of the Revolution).

Some —such as the Dr. Esteban Morales— saw the need to struggle against the problem by first raising the consciousness of blacks and mulattos on the island to the fact that they live in a racist society.   Others, however, believe the problem will only be solved with changes in the nation’s educational system as well as in the existing social system.

Daisy Valera

Daisy Valera:Soil scientist and blogger. I write from Mexico City, where Havana sometimes becomes so small that it disappears. However in others, the Cuban capital is a city so past and present that it steals your breath.

2 thoughts on “Questions of Race (II)

  • I am glad that the denial of racism in Cuba is being challenge. Just like in the USA, racism must constantly be challenged and resisted until it ends, whenever that will be. One great start would be for those of us who live in the Western Hemisphere to learn much more about each other and the societies in which we live.

  • I found this article fascinating. My first visit to Cuba was in 1978 as part of a legal delegation from the National Conference of Black Lawyers. As radical advocates for racial justice in the US we were intrigued by how Cuba was addressing the issue of racism. Much to our surprise we were told repeatedly that the revolution had outlawed racism and so it didn’t exist. People we spoke to on the street told a different story, but always with a hand out. It was hard to separate the truth from the reward they sought for telling us what they thought we wanted to hear.

    As we had meetings with higher party officials the conversations became more honest and open. They conceded that racism was still an issue in Cuba, but that it was diminishing as the revolution progressed. This assertion of the withering away of such a deeply ingrained social phenomena seemed incredulous to us, but in our enthusiasm we tended to accept this version of one of Cuba’s many “secondary” contradictions.

    Following my fifth visit to Cuba, a little over ten years ago it was clear that there were always new reasons for parking the issue of racism in the never to be addressed category of “secondary” contradictions. Now it seems that while we learned much from our Cuban comrades, that they might learn a bit from those of us in the US who have studied and struggled against racism.

    I fully agree with the view that everything begins with consciousness, moves forward with honesty and confronts fear with courage and the generosity of spirit of a Nelson Mandela. We must always start with the truth, and with Cuba that means looking at the reality of racism from the honest experience of those who suffer most from it.

    Let us hope that such leaders emerge so that on my next visit to Cuba when i ask about issues of race I wont be confronted with the same denial and fear that characterized our conversation 35 years ago.

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