No Law, No Resolution, No Racism in Cuba

Maria Matienzo Puerto

HAVANA TIMES, Jan 4 — I have a picture of my niece on the desktop of my computer. She’s only a year old and a mulata, like me.

What it means to be black in Cuba is summarized by her mother, a light-brown-skinned Cuban woman who would never dream of mentioning the girl’s black grandmother.

Race here can also be encapsulated by my brother’s awareness of the frequency with which the police ask him for his ID when he’s walking down the street.

On the outside, the two of them are a happy couple with a little baby in their arms. They confine themselves to laughing at and repeating the jokes they hear about black people.

I have a friend who has a theory that’s well-founded (at least according to him) which maintains there’s no racism in Cuba. Being a good person, I think what he should say is that there shouldn’t be any racism in Cuba.

If that was the case I could agree with him and this subject wouldn’t produce a disconnect in our relations.

Certainly, whoever heard or read what was said recently in Cuba’s legislature on the subject of race started off this year with the same idea.

“In Cuba, there is no racism.” Please! Is this really such a paradise?

Evidently there is no historic Old Havana rebuilt like in the days of blanqueamiento (“whitening,” the recruitment of whites to the island to keep it from being majority black).

There is no legacy of slavery, pain or a white heritage of human trafficking.

There are no prisons full of black men and women, just as there is no 500-year debt of social disadvantage.

And obviously rumba, guaguanco, Santeria, palo, the Abakua, or conga have never been considered marginal or marginalized manifestations of “folklore.”

Well that’s nice. This is the place. Come to the paradise where there’s no color and — incidentally — no legacy!

What I’m saying is that my family and friends and their jokes and theories are big lies.

It’s was a lie when Alfredo was told by the barber that he didn’t cut “that type of hair.”

It was a lie when Julian didn’t get the job (though fully qualified) and later found out that it was given to a less qualified white man.

It’s the same when Karen, who works in a museum, is constantly admonished by her boss (with all the power that goes with that status) because he thinks her hair is “horrendous” and inappropriate for her work as an attendant.

Now we find the National Assembly didn’t see it necessary to pass a law or resolution pertaining to racism. They saw no need to accuse those who — from their positions of power, whatever these may be — denigrate, exclude and apply their racist ideas.

I think that all these stories of my family and friends are mere fantasy. Certainly, they’re as imaginative as I am.

In any case, my niece will grow up facing the same discrimination that I did.

Meanwhile my friend, “the good person,” will continue hanging on to his same ideas, and the rest of us, for those who care, will continue struggling.

For my niece to grow up in a truly civil society of the 21st century, it would be necessary — now that they’re “updating” things — for them to pass a law that recognizes and orders racism to be treated as a crime.

Nevertheless, the same old people continue coming up with the same old stories. They themselves continue being the same old story.

Maria Matienzo

Maria Matienzo Puerto: I dreamed once that I was a butterfly who had come from Africa and discovered that I had been alive for thirty years. From that time on, I constructed my world while I was sleeping: I was born in a magic city like Havana; I dedicated myself to journalism; I wrote and edited books for children; I met to discuss art with wonderful people; I fell in love with a woman. Of course, there are certain points of coincidence with the reality of my waking life and it’s that I prefer the silence of reading and the pleasure of a good movie.

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5 thoughts on “No Law, No Resolution, No Racism in Cuba

  • Maria Matienzo Puerto,

    The good news is that In the last year, there has been a big increase in the news and debate among Americans and Cubans about the legacy and continuing elements of racism in Cuba (and of course we all know it is still rampant in the USA). There have been reports, articles, petitions, workshops and many writings by citizens and officials of both countries.

    Of course this debate has been heated and very political. For a long time, Cuban official statements did defend Cuba’s progress in erasing racism from the law and sometimes even claimed it no longer existed in Cuba. At the same time, other writings and statements acknowledged that the legacy had not been fully erased. But this new debate has allowed a more realistic assessment and response. We will all see how well this goes in practice.

    Active against racism in the US since I saw the horrors of segregation as a child, I learned how difficult it is to eliminate the obvious and hidden uses of racism. What I saw on my trips to Cuba was that some racism still existed, but was different in some ways and degrees compared to the US. Also, I am old enough to have seen changes here in the US too. Younger Americans are now generally not as racist as their parents. But the institutional aspects of racism in the distribution of wealth, resources, privileges and social consequences are surely existent in both countries and more difficult to change. And this is true in spite of our cultural differences and the very different governmental approaches.

    In the 1950’s and 60’s when the US government was trying to save legal racism and had to be forced to make incremental changes, the Cuban revolution was trying to institutionalize equality (officially against racism and other forms of inequality). The US government then and ever since has had to be forced to implement insufficient protections and changes. We still have presidential candidates who are running on essentially racist platforms. So it is vital we work to be both critical and positive in our efforts to build more just and healthy societies.

  • @ To Maria Matienzo Puerto, thanks for a beautiful article. Please allow me to say a few things, from the United States, about racism.

    Both racism and sexism, in our view, are specific aspects of classism.

    Classism is an institutionalized mentality of arrogance that is necessary for the maintenance of class society. If this is correct, then it follows that racism can never be fully erased from society unless and until classes (and classism) have been superseded. The question of how society is to get beyond racism therefore becomes the question of how classes are to be superseded.

    Our movement believes that classes will diminish naturally under a truly socialist cooperative republic. The mechanism of this diminution would be the democratization of productive property ownership, that is, as the mass of industrial and commercial proletarians come into ownership of their enterprises, they would become a new class of property owners, rather on a par with the independent small business owners.

    Over time, this is expected to raise the mass of the working people economically. This mass raising of the people should gradually erase the cultural differences between the old class groupings, and this ultimately would eliminate classes.

    Bottom line: racism can be overcome by a truly socialist cooperative mode of production.

  • I hope that your brother’s issues and self-hatred end very soon. How sad it is for him to berate his own people and heritage. It can only have a negative impact on your niece and inflict her with low self-esteem and self-worth. Haven’t women of colour everywhere suffered enough from this?

  • What about all the other forms of discrimination happening in Cuba?
    In 1993 I went to apply for some job openings at “El Bosque” -a resort in Holguín, I was there before sunrise, been the second person in the line I believed one of these few jobs will be mine but about 9:00am a girl from the human resources office came asking for red ID’s. She said applicants must be members of the communist party or the communist youth since they will be in contact with foreigners.

    Funny thing all the 8 or 10 red-IDed guys She choose were white. So I as a mulatto non-commie I got hit by a double whammy!!!

  • what a beautiful essay Maria Matienzo Puerto, lo lei, y espero que llegara este momento,
    Cuba needs open up and be more aggressive in treating afro-cubans with the same revoultionary standard,
    the problem is race relations all over americas have been so taboo,
    youll find the same problem, and if not worse here in the United States.
    Institutional racism becomes a cancerous cycle crippling the afro-cuban population,
    im glad you have chose to write about that.

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