Miguel Arias Sanchez
HAVANA TIMES — The subject of racial discrimination in Cuba is a very delicate and thorny issue which has to be approached with a lot of care, so that there isn’t any confusion or people hurt.
On October 10th 1868, Carlos Manuel de Cespedes set his slaves free, as an act of bravery and sheer contempt for all forms of racial discrimination and slavery. It was a great day for Cuba.
Later, over time and with different governments in power, new signs of racial discrimination reappeared in our country. During the Batista era, I remember in Regla there used to be the famous “Baile de las flores” dance which used to take place at the high school. Cubans who are reading this post will be able to remember this now, the dance which black people and their partners couldn’t attend. The Juan Gualberto Gomez society stood a few blocks away, that’s where they used to go to have fun.
At primary school, I remember that a friend of mine was always sad because the other students didn’t hang out with him and hardly even spoke to him… My friend was black.
I have been talking to people who come from Cardenas, Matanzas, and they tell me how black people used to walk down one side of the street, and white people used to walk down the other. They also recall that when a white man got onto a bus, the black man had to get up and give up his seat. Back then this country reached such levels of humiliation.
I have to clarify that when I say “black person”, I’m not being derogatory. Fidel once said in a speech: “somebody spoke about a colleague of color; no sir, you have to call a black man “black”; there is the white race and the black race. It isn’t offensive to say black or white, it’s more humiliating to call him “of color”. What color?” And he concluded with: “there is only the human race.” I identify myself with this line of thinking.
In Cuba today, the State and its laws prohibit all kinds of discrimination, be that racial, gender-based or employment discrimination; it has been captured in Cuba’s Constitution. However, alarming signs of discrimination can be seen more clearly over the past few years.
In Juventud Rebelde newspaper, a group of children were posing happily in a picture for the April 4th ceremony of the pioneers. The group was made up of two black boys and four white boys. I asked myself: to reflect Cuba’s racial diversity in the photo, wouldn’t it have been better to compensate with three of each race? In soap operas, the majority of actors are white and there is a famous Arts school in Cuba where extremely talented white and black actors graduate. And then what?
Listening to Radio Rebelde, I found out about the case of the taxi driver who made a girl, who was traveling in his taxi, get out while he insulted her. The man was very clear: I don’t want black people in my car. I believe there’s a fine punishment waiting for him, as news about the case spread like wildfire and the authorities had to take action. But, this is how many people on the street actually think. You can pick up on this at private restaurants and other places where food is served. I know a restaurant in Old Havana that only hires young white girls with blonde hair and blue eyes. I don’t know if the owner has some kind of obsession with the color blue.
Personally, I’ve experienced this when people from my own family have tried to make jokes and have a laugh criticizing me because my partner is mixed race. I have had to put them in their place and set them straight, like we say here in Cuba.
It’s a very serious and worrying issue in a system that proclaims itself to be “just”. Both the State and corresponding organizations or bodies need to pay special and systematic attention to this problem because it is growing by the day and if they let it get out of their hands, it could bring serious consequences for all Cuban society in the short or long run.