Black Mannequin Seeking Employment

By Erasmo Calzadilla (photos: Irina Echarry)

The typical mannequin.

HAVANA TIMES — My grandparents used to tell me that in their hometown of Madruga, racial discrimination was once alive and well. Few whites would associate with blacks, and a white woman who got involved with a black man was rejected by everyone (white).

In the park, each racial group would use a different sidewalk, with the worse one of course used by those people “of color,”

Some people crossed those racial barriers out of friendship, love or other reasons. My grandmother, for example, was proud that they made no distinctions in her home, yet I doubt that she would have ever fallen in love with a moreno (a darker skinned person).

The revolution helped to partially eliminate racial discrimination, but with the system’s current crisis, these old demons have returned to life.

Looking for a black mannequin

Glancing at mannequins in store windows made me realize something.

The darkest.

About 99.99 percent of those figures are “pure white.” The only non-white ones I’ve seen in any of the malls and shopping centers here in Havana are a couple of very light-skinned ones with narrow features, light eyes and straight hair. One of them was posed in front of a military tent, and the other one — a light-eyed jabaita (“mulata”) — was standing paralyzed in the window of the Ultra department store.

This contrasts with life on the island because more than 50 percent of the Cuban population is black or mixed.

Surely the existence of so many white dummies is no one’s fault. The manufacturers create white mannequins because those are the most requested, and the black ones — the few that exist — end up being too expensive. That’s pretty much how we look at the situation.

Nor is anyone’s fault that the faces most likely to appear on billboards across the city (those of Fidel and Raul Castro, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, Camilo Cienfuegos, Vilma Espin, the Cuban 5 and their wives, the girls from Nestle or those in Sedal shampoo ads) barely evidence any Negroid features (in the last example they come off as “decaffeinated blacks”).

There’s no need for a conspiracy for racism to be reintroduced here. The seed is latent and because of neglect the ground is prepared.

Nonetheless, the government has a clear obligation to prevent racist aesthetics from prevailing in public establishments and the state-run media.

Note: After writing this, I saw a few black mannequins at the “Art en la Rampa” crafts fair, though these were white ones that had been painted black.

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4 thoughts on “Black Mannequin Seeking Employment

  • “There’s no need for a conspiracy for racism to be reintroduced here.”

    “Truth is beautiful and proper at all times.”
    Frederick Douglas

    When the same esthetic that operates in the shop-front window is also at play in the institutions of the state and government, then Cuba, a highly multi-racial society, needs to look deep into its soul and confront the truth. It is extremely hard to rationalize the racial contradictions that operate in Cuba at the state level. While there is no de jure racism, the same Cuba that offers so much generosity in assistance to African and Caribbean countries, the same Cuba that sends her sons and daughters to die for the liberation of Angola from racist and imperialist proxies is the same Cuba that, from all appearances, is reluctant to let African blood run freely in its veins” when it comes to leadership positions.

    It has taken Cuba 40 years to appoint an Afro-Cuban, Lazo Hernandez, as a Vice President. Still the most recent addition to that collective position followed the same racial “aesthetic” as reflected by the majority in that political capacity. More of the same. No rocking of the boat. Afro-Cubans just don’t have what it takes. Perhaps in another 40 years…

    I wish Cuba only the best, and I do not subscribe to the counter-revolutionary propaganda disguised as advocacy for racial justice by the likes of Carlos Moore, the unapologetic “Company” operative. Occasionally I cannot help feeling the schadenfreude inherent in the fact that all of Fidel’s “white boys,” who became the very face of a supposedly-new Cuba, betrayed him: Robaina, Perez-Roque, Lage, and even the personal secretary, Valenciaga. One does not ask for quotas but the question of racial diversity has to be raised. For racial diversity, not marginalization, is a must for the survival of a Cuba whose unity will be greatly tested as the empire-builders put more and more sophisticated and not-so-sophisticated pressure for change on her.

  • The ugly ghosts of racism and prejudice keep increasingly haunting us Cubans. And we all are to blame for their presence. But look, in China, inhabited by over 1,300 people, of whom some 1,100 are typical Chinese (the rest being ethnic minorities), you can hardly find a truly Asian-looking mannequin. Ironically, however, many of those dolls displayed here are of negro or mulatto type though!

  • The other night my oldest daughter, Daphne, was playing Luis Armstrong’s version of the heartbreaking
    “Black & Blue” Here are the lyrics from Bessie Smith’s version:

    “Cold empy bed…springs hard as lead
    Pains in my head…feel like old Ned
    What did I do to be so black I’m blue?
    No joy for me. No company.

    “Even the mouse ran from my house.
    All my life through I’ve been so black I’m blue.

    “I’m white inside, but that don’t help my case.
    Cause that won’t hide what is on my face.
    I’m so forlorn. My life’s just a thorn.
    My heart is torn. Why was I born?
    What did I do to be so black and blue?

    “I’m hurt inside, but that don’t help my case
    ‘Cause i can’t hide what is on my face.
    How will it end? Ain’t got a friend.
    My only sin is in my skin.
    What did I do to be so black and blue?
    Tell me, what did I do?
    What did I do? What did I do?
    What did I do? What did I do?
    What did I do? What did I do?
    What did I do? Tell me, what did I do to be so black and blue?
    What did I do to be so black and blue?”

    Incidentally, Erasmo, about a month ago I heard the Besslie Smith version on Radio Musical Nacional, CMBF, (which I listen to on streaming audio via my computer) on its late night jazz program.

  • Hello from NYC, NY! This is fascinating. Does anyone try to make their own dolls on the island? I’m serious.

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