No to Racism, Regardless of the Source

Erasmo Calzadilla

Yes.  There’s racism in Cuba.  Blacks and mestizos are the majority in the jails, but the minority in the country’s best schools.  Much has changed since 1959, but the differences subsist – there’s no doubt.

It’s not enough to facilitate the admission of some black students or mestizos into the few schools that guarantee a decent future, because these institutions continue to be racist in their essence, culturally racist (negritude involves not only skin color).

Why?  Because these are centers of mental colonization where they teach — if not explicit racism — at least a good dose of thick-soled rationalism, positivism and vapid pragmatism; typical products of imperialistic and especially capitalist colonialism.  Such systems don’t have their own colors, but they dirty all of them.

Though people avoid raising it and it’s not popular to talk about the issue, there also exists racism against whites, as a skin color and as a culture.  Is that variety of racism common?  Perhaps not in the provincial capitals, but it is prevelant if we go deeper into the marginalized outer-ring neighborhoods, especially those around the country’s capital.  The proportions of color and forces change there, where racism against whites is becoming a serious matter.

The reggaeton musician Insurrecto says in one of his multi-award-winning songs, “Cerro Cerrao,” that in his neighborhood:

“The few whites there/are married to big black women”

This makes one wonder: Why don’t whites live there?  Did they ever?  Did they move or were they expelled?

It gives me the impression that he’s even saying it with pride…

Well, it’s better not to let one’s self be dragged along by Insurrecto. Racism has to go, no matter where it comes from, whether its aggressiveness comes from whites or blacks.


10 thoughts on “No to Racism, Regardless of the Source

  • Sammy I do deny the facts you explained so well. Racism unfortunately is very hard to eliminate. Is something that does not disappear by magic words even if the come from above. Even if it is eliminated by the laws of the nation and unfortunately will be with us for some time to come.
    One thing that surprise me a lot about coming to the US is that I noticed less racism in the US that what I noticed myself in Cuba. But what I wrote above is still true.

    The Cuban government does not have any racist laws and can not be blame for racism that was inherent to Cuban culture. It will take time for that cultural bias to vanish.
    I believe you are correct in believing that the prejudices remain.

    Again. What can a government in such cases do?
    Other than educate people about their wrong attitudes I see no other solution. Would you mind suggesting other solutions or ways to solve the problem?

    Again as I explained the reason why power is in the hands of whites is a consequence of real power in Cuba restricted to very few hands not because of a racist policy by the government itself. I think.
    This is something I am very critical of. To have so much power concentrated in so few people.

  • @Sammy… African identity in the Americas has existed since Africans first arrived… I think you misunderstand my meaning about identifying as “Cuban” and not “Black”… early on in the Revolution Fidel proclaimed that the “Cuban people are an Afro-Spanish people”… the acknowledgement of an Africa as an integral component of what it means to be Cuban… he also made it clear that the Cuban state owed a debt to Africa… the Revolution was thus a turning point that began the process of forging a single nation… yes the leadership was mostly “White” but they were doing what was required of them with regards to ending racism… in other words “Blacks” and “Whites” were moving in the same direction and a single national identity was being created that those of African descent could identify with… no longer a nation within a nation… there were faults in this process and these faults are now widening with the change in circumstances… but the crucial point is that those “Whites” that remained on the island were acknowledging their debt to Africa and through aligning internationally, beginning the process of repaying it… in other words they were doing what was required of them voluntarily… risking everything to help the liberation of Africa… in such circumstances the “Whites” ceased to be “White”, at least at the international level, and to be Cuban became an identity that those of African descent could be proud of rather than a permanent reminder of slavery… I hope this doesn’t sound like I am lecturing you 😉 it is to my mind one of the greatest tragedies of the world that the Revolutionary Cuban identity is being eroded…

    I have been accused of living in the eighties with regards to Cuba which is possibly true… that is when most of my childhood memories of Cuba come from… at that time Cubans were fighting the forces of apartheid in Angola… a lot has happened since then… but I refuse to forget or give up on the positive power that Cuban unity brought to the world…

  • @ julio: I know for sure, I am 100% sure, that there is racism in Cuba. The laws no longer exist but the prejudices remain. And even though Blacks and Mulattoes are in the majority it is the whites who hold power. A small example is My boyfriend, who is taking a class at the university, showed up late for the class. The professor in front of all the students says, “you people are always late”. Meaning black people. My boyfriend was livid, after that he told me that he considered walking out of the class. But he held his tongue and apologized for coming in late. Its little things like this that tell Afro-Cubans “your not welcome here” or “we know your really not going to make it”. My issue with Erasmo’s analysis of black’s views of whites is that Blacks can’t be racist, because they don’t hold the power in the society.

    @George: I have probably one of the largest collections of Cuban Hip Hop outside of Cuba. I’d be happy to make you a mix CD 🙂

    I would suggest reading a new book called “The Afro-Latin@ Reader”. It chronicles the history and contributions of Afro-Latinos in the Americas and debunks the myth that people only recently started identifying as “afro-latino”. Maybe the term is new but the culture and the communities are as old as when the first colonizer first stepped foot here. So…yeah..highly recommended.

  • Cuba did much more than simply abolish official racist laws… if you are not seeing that now it is because over the last twenty years since the collapse of the Soviet Union much of that hard won progress has been reversed… the cushion of the Soviet Union allowed racial relations to develop harmoniously and progressively… what Erasmo is reporting is the deterioration of these relations which is a direct result of having to rely on the capitalist world for sustenance… like the “players” in the U.S., Cuba has been forced through tourism to pimp itself out to rich Europeans catering to their frivolous desires and disastrous prejudices… the solidarity in Revolutionary Cuba which existed prior to the collapse of the USSR is eroding… going are the days when many of the darkest of Cubans would proudly insist “I am not Black, I am Cuban” because to be Cuban meant more than “Black” it meant liberation… I don’t want to live in the past… short of resurrecting the Soviet Union, the question is what can be done now…

  • For sure whites hold the power in Cuba and while many of the official racist laws have been abolished prejudices and power over blacks still remain.

  • I am worried by my last comment as much as anyone else… I am speaking from my psychosis now… that has been the net result of five hundred years of madness on my life… I am neither “White” nor “Black”… yet I am no crazier than Al Qathafi and despite some tensions between my family and myself over my attempts to bridge “Black” superiority with realisation of self so far it has not resulted in any violent uprising… what is “Black” superiority?… is it having the biggest and best ego and materiality or is it being superior through virtue… virtue of having never been the oppressor in the global game of chess… in no way am I trying to hide the racist norms that exist and have existed in Cuba… only to say that they are different and that the Revolution had a huge impact on improving them… with regards to the racist norms of the imperialist countries… if anyone wondered why many Muslims have been so angry of late they should wonder no more… these norms are taking us to armageddon with the majority of the world being infinitely diverse non-Whites and being forced into the narrow confines of the five hundred year old history between West European aristocracy and Africa… as Farrakhan says, only one in five will survive… the fault lies squarely at the door of the imperialists… yet it took 9/11 for the U.S. to even elect a “mixed race” president… something that if not an inside job was at the very least carried out by a group that had received funding from the CIA in the past… conspiracy theories abound… now even the “players” are said to be aiding the illuminati… and who are they… all those who put power and ego ahead of solidarity and humility… as armageddon approaches, the only solution is to leave the ego behind… and when the ego is gone all will be left is the cry of the soul… lala illaha la… or as Peter Tosh said “And di only ting dat could mek mi move fi seh, MOVE YUH BUMBA CLAAT!”

  • Unfortunately, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba has had to seek investment from the capitalist world, particularly in the form of tourism and remittances from the imperialist countries. Both of these relationships, of which you yourself are a part, have brought the more entrenched racial denominations of the imperialist countries back to the island with a vengeance. To give an explicit example, which I think is what Erasmo is reacting to. In the U.S. the most successful “Black” people are seen to be “Black” male so called “players”, whereas at least before the collapse of the Soviet Union, in Cuba they were doctors. This U.S. reality caters to a particular “White” racist fetish which some “Black” men have through no other option been left to try and exploit. The rise of the jineteros in Cuba is evidence of this. I know nothing of you and am not accusing you of being party to such racist distortions, however there are others who are. There is no starker evidence of this than the triumph of Reggaeton over Cuban Hip Hop within the minds of the Cuban youth. For all the lack of progress in many areas by the Revolution, this importation of imperialist racist norms is to my mind the most damaging result of the collapse of the Soviet Union.

    So yes, prejudice by the oppressed against the oppressor is not racism. But when both groups are oppressed by the same master the question as to what extent and by how you are reflecting the racism of the master becomes important.

  • Sammy
    Erasmo does read the answers. I know because that is how I got to talk to him before. Dmitri, Erasmo, Irina and Isbel do read what people post. About racism in Cuba I am not black so I never feel any racism. On the other hand I do not think there is any racist government policy directed towards any particular group in Cuba.

    What Erasmo talks here is probably true. I will have to say that I do not remember seen any program specific and directed towards blacks to help them improve their situation. Apparently more than 50 percent of Cuban population is either black or mixed. So blacks in Cuba are not a minority. They are a majority.

    Do they have a corresponding share of power?
    Maybe not.
    But the main reason I think is because power in Cuba is concentrated in very few hands and those who hold the power are all white.

  • I deeply appreciate Erasmo Calzadilla willingness to involve himself into Cuba’s mos important, thorny, urgent and critical issue in its history.

    Although most articles in the media in Cuba today, deals with the downsize and economical difficulties the country is facing or the projected measures approved recently the Communist Party Congress geared to correct and develop our nation, these all important issues, will always be dependent on solving the nation core, five hundred years old, excruciating, racial divide.

    Much is expected of Cuba and much more than what Cuba have already given to world, will only be possible, when it erase this historical debt, and all of its children, especially those who have been neglected, marginalized for centuries, can achieve their full and equal rights and responsibilities before our nation.

    The world needs a model of racial justice, equality and social harmony. Only Cuba is capable of creating such a society and it must do so now, for itself and for the rest of the world.

  • Well, I’m not sure if Erasmo reads this blog directly. But I would like to respond to this. Just to give some background I am responding as a white women who grew up in a working class area in the US which was very racially diverse, pretty much equal in terms of blacks, whites, latinos and asians. The older white people in my neighborhood were very racist, but most of my friends growing up were black, although that changed as I moved out of my neighborhood and went to the University. I am also currently dating a black man who lives in one of the more solidly “afro-cuban” areas of Centro Habana (he lives in Cayo Hueso) and I have lived in this neighborhood with him for several months out of the year for about 3 years now.

    Ok…that’s where I’m coming from. So, In the US we often define racism as being a combination of prejudice + power. There are, of course, black people who hold prejudices against whites and asians who hold prejudices against blacks. But the real question is who is in the position of power ? Who controls the resources, who makes the laws, who decides who enters in the University and who ends up working in construction or as an auto mechanic ? Yes, I am sure there are blacks in Havana who hold prejudices against whites. Often I can commiserate with that perspective, actually, if there was a system of white supremacy that excluded my family from the best jobs and schools I would probably hold some deep seeded resentment and prejudice as well. But the bottom line is that blacks in Cuba (and in most countries in Latin & North America) are not in positions of power. Therefor they, like all people, can hold prejudices and even act in anti-social ways based on these prejudices. But they are not “racist” in the way you are thinking of the word, because they are not the ones in positions of power.

    Also, I am not 100% up on my Afro-Cuban history. But I know a little bit. And I would suspect that the reason why certain neighborhoods (particularly in the outer areas surrounding Havana) are more “black” than “white” is directly related to racist housing policies from before the revolution. I have yet to see a situation in the Americas where black people kicked whites out of their housing or exerted any kind of power to exclude whites from a particular neighborhood. Most often, and I would guess this is the case in the neighborhood your talking about, blacks were confined to certain areas based on where work was available/needed or based on proximity away from white areas. In the US, as racist housing policies were broken down and made illegal, more blacks begin moving into desirable “white” areas. In turn the white people voluntarily left and the area became more and more a “black area”. But the white people from the area were never “pushed out” by the blacks. The shift from being a white area to a black area was never based on the power of black being exerted over the white residents…rather it was based on racist housing policies and deep seeded prejudices that made white folsk think that living next to black folks was “undesirable”.

    So, I don’t know the situation in the neighborhood your talking about. But racism does exist in Cuba, and it is a situation where white Cubans are predominantly in power and blacks are discriminated again in a variety of ways. I’m sorry that there are some whites who may feel like black cubans are prejudiced towards them. But “reverse” racism cannot exist because the balance of power is strongly in the hands of the white establishment. The goal of all revolutionaries should be the destruction of “power over” and for the equal distribution of power amongst everyone…with the goal being the elimination of racism and all forms of oppression. But to do this you must have an analysis of power…who holds it and who need more of it.

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