Questions of Race

Daisy Valera

Photo: Caridad

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?

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.


6 thoughts on “Questions of Race

  • November 11, 2011 at 12:48 am
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    You want to see real racism and injustice?
    Come to the United States of America.
    Cuba looks like a paradise in
    comparison.

  • November 1, 2011 at 2:21 pm
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    The only way to “make it disappear” is for the perpetrators, the architects of slavery, to leave this land that they claimed as theirs in 1492. Simple. Blacks and mulattos will get along just fine.

    Here’s a question for you: why are black Cubans referred to as “Afro Cubans” while those of pure Spanish decent referred to as “Cubans”? Are you not all Cubans? Why are blacks always being segregated like a 2nd or 3rd class?

    Sorry Daisy, you’re too idealistic. Your question is so beyond naive.

  • September 30, 2010 at 6:37 pm
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    Last.. dreadlocks jave nothing to do with RACE or RACISM..Why? because here in Cuba there are many many Many fair Cubans with locs..Racism/deadlocks is an excuse to carry on business as usual..Get over it ..My locs have not stopped me from saying or doing or providing resources for myself or family And they will not stop Cubans either..If the feet are removed from our heads? .Locks are simply another way for Europe and caucasions to separate people worldwide while covering their culos..and blatantly discriminating..Daisy if your friend cuts his hair he has bought into the racism..perped against him..

  • September 30, 2010 at 6:32 pm
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    Number one.. The subject of race will not disappear UNTIL it is addressed properly and when my people The Cuban with African traditions and culture are given the same treatment world wide..Including here in Cuba as is afforded the so called MULE(mulatto) , mestizo and Grifa. And when those LABELS ARE REMOVED..HOW ABOUT CUBAN?.Even now with all that Marti and Fidel have tried to do, RASCISM seeps in ..Why because of foreigners who bring that old hate and jealousy with them from where ever they come from.
    Here in Cuba amongst most that i meet there seems to be not as much of the R word as there is amongst the vendors from Europe..Case in Point..i enrered a store in Havana about a week ago and the owner? Looked at me like W T F..are u doing here?..I had on African clothing with my head covered and as i browsed he followed me..When i chose my articles and was given the price and pulled out my money..He took it asked are u Cuban? ..i waited until he packed ed my purchases and as i headed for the door..i was asked again and i smiled and said…SI COMO NO? Pero soy African Cuban

  • September 30, 2010 at 6:20 pm
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    First…Caucasions do not suffer like the African and if they do being CAUCASION always trumps any issues they have or may be confronted with ..Why? because b they are Caucas people ..there are no WHITE people never wwere?.
    This is not about infrastucture like some try to make it out to be .. this is possibly an attempt to change the subject..NOT! The RACE ISSUE WILL BE HEARD AND READ.. Go figure

    Members of the Caucasions culture seem to never get it! And niether do some of US who are African Spanish speakers et/al.. People our numbers are HUGE And when an African procreates with any other culture esp a Caucasion we still produce another African? The former major culture overstand that as well and that is why Eoropean women are seeking African men..We make all races others can only make themselves..Check out the US 1/3 rule? Now having said that.. And i hope the good man Circles does not find this too hot..

    WHEN I WAS STILL A TEEN in Cuba we had an old amerikkkn saying learned by Africans from Cuba who brought it back on occassions from where else..amerikkka

    if your white your alright
    if your brown stick around
    if your tella you may be mella
    if yout red..your dead?
    and if your black stand back…Hasd not happened yet..

  • September 29, 2010 at 12:10 am
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    This is a prime example of the more difficult aspects of a society’s changing over from divisive capitalist relations to wholly integrated and humanistic socialist ones: dealing with those seemingly immaterial social relations which tie society together at a much higher functional level than the more obviously concrete ones such as food and shelter, etc. And while these relations appear to be pernicious and stubborn ruts when they are objectively negative and anti-social, the resources required to work at *changing* them are not nearly as costly, in a material sense, as those required for the building of roads and bridges and infrastructure and housing, etc. So the problem instead is an *organizational* one: i.e. the lack of will and knowledge and foresight and inspiration — not to mention vested interests — in those whose job it is to see that these changes come about systematically, rationally and ‘naturally’, and with relative ease. And of course, here I’m talking about the cuban communist Party and its apparatus and supporters: who clearly have not been up to the job of introducing real socialism to the Island. Not in a major part, anyway. Some goes for what’s happening now in Venezuela.

    So the cuban government has concentrated on Cuba’s rich cultural heritage these past decades, while the country necessarily remains materially poor? What does it have to show, then, for this cultural development, when the conscious cultural work of a truly socialist society would have long ago dealt firmly with all this backwardness inherited from the capitalist period..?

    Clearly the stalinist mindset of the cuban government and Party has much to answer for, even in the social and cultural sphere. However, the recent developments clearly demonstrate that these people, more or less, ‘have learned nothing — but forgotten nothing’. Same old, same-old of unaccountable power conceding nothing without a fight.

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