Jaime is an acquaintance of mine. We get together from time to time for coffee and to compare our takes on things.
Jaime is a mulatto, almost black, and of medium build. He’s a computer specialist and likes plumbing.
A few days ago we met over a couple fresh-brewed mates, and since we didn’t have much else new to talk about, a question came to my mind. I asked him if he felt that Cuba was racist.
Jaime found my question a little funny, as I told myself that such a question could only occur to a young white woman like me.
But with that inquiry came a whole list of situations that he considered himself to have been confronted with because of his race.
The first was treatment by police. He talked about the notorious situation of how officers of the law stop people on the street to ask them for their IDs, something that happens to a much greater percentage of blacks than whites. And the situation becomes even more serious if a black person is walking along with a foreigner.
Jaime graduated from the university a year ago. While he was in school, he made friends by e-mail with foreigners who had come to Cuba and later came back and saw him.
But on several of those occasions the police stopped him in the street to ask him why he was hanging out with people from another country. He felt as if they were accusing him of prostituting himself or that it was forbidden for him to have friends from another country.
He told me that a while ago that he was thinking of changing his appearance, and that he’s still undecided. He knows that by leaving his hair long, wearing dreadlocks or braids, he could be taken for a black guy who was “on the prowl” for foreigners.
“To be a young black man in Cuba,” he said, “makes it difficult even to find a girlfriend.”
“In the street, many white women look away when a black man goes by, and friends will always present you to black or mulatto women – as if there were no possibility of a white woman ever being attracted to a me. Many whites even look down on interracial couples,” he added.
Finally, he commented that he even feels strange when telling whites that he prefers one type of music over another; it’s as if the music reserved for blacks is timba or salsa, but never rock.
This is part of the life of a young mulatto in Havana, a man immersed in a society that he considers racist and who was stumped when trying to answer my last question: What can we do so that these situations disappear?