Speaking of Skin Colors in Cuba

Nonardo Perea

Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — In Cuba, there is a well-known popular phrase that goes like this: “If you’re not part Congo, you’re part Carabali” (meaning that everyone has a drop of African in their blood).

Reading my friend Yusimi Rodriguez’ post, Cuba: Blatant Racism or Reasonable Doubt?, I could not help but write something about the issue of racism in our country myself, as this phenomenon is becoming more and more patent in our daily experiences.

Racism exists in Cuba: it’s sad to have to admit it, but it’s the truth. The worst part is that even black people say they want to “get ahead racially.” This means that the great majority of black parents wish for their children to procreate with people of white skin, so that they will “get ahead racially,” as they put it. “I don’t want to comb that hair,” is another comment I’ve heard people make in countless occasions.

A few days ago, I was standing in line at a pharmacy, where I was waiting for my turn to buy the medication I take for my blood pressure.

Standing in line was a black man who was keeping an eye on his 5-year-old daughter (who had a much lighter skin tone). Suddenly, a very dark-skinned young man appeared and the child, laughing her head off, went over to give him a hug, as though she’d known him all her life. Seeing the girl’s gesture, the only thing the father said was:

“Look at that, she likes black guys. Hey, don’t go for blacks, go for whites, I already got you ahead. Look how friendly she is, and with a black guy she doesn’t even know!”

He spent the entire time in line talking about skin color and his girl’s overly friendly attitude towards the black man. The nicest part is that the people there merely laughed, as though it were merely a candid remark, and even the black teenager the man was referring to, completely ignorant of race issues, seemed to join in on the joke.

I looked at them with a serious look on my face, rather put off.

I, a white person, felt indignant over those racist comments, spoken by a black man, in a line where people were also predominantly black.

This makes me think that racism is on the rise, that it is spreading, and that we don’t notice this many a time. To be able to notice, as I’ve written elsewhere, one has to be black and feel the magnitude of the problem first-hand.

I don’t consider myself either white, black or any color. I am quite simply a person. I live with a black man, and many of my previous partners (and there haven’t been that many) have also been black men. Most of my best friends are also black. In short, I love black people. I also love white people. I love people regardless of the color of their skin.

What matters most are one’s values, the way one is and behaves as a human being. We are all people, it doesn’t matter what our skin color is. There are white people who are very good persons, but there are also black people who are even better. In short, race does not determine whether one is good or bad.

Hitler was white and he was a despicable being. Had he been black, we’d be hearing comments like “it had to be a black man,” or, “what a black man doesn’t do on his way in, he does on his way out.” I happen to know a lot of white people who have done bad things “on their way out.”

So, please, let’s leave the issue of skin color alone, because it’s irrelevant – don’t you agree?

View Comments

  • I agree 100% with your statement that skin colour doesn't determine whether a person is good or bad. Unfortunately people are automatically more suspicious of a dark skinned person & that seems to be universal.

  • I agree that it is irrelevant... or rather that it should be irrelevant but the reality is that it is a part of every day life everywhere. Race does not determine the character of a peson but it seems that when things are bad skin color is used as an additional "sin" when darker. I do have to agree when it is said that it is worse in other places but ti think that the extento which it presents in Cuba.

  • A very interesting anecdote at the pharmacy, of the man talking about the skin colour of his daughter. It reminds me of the discussions about race in the great 19th century Cuban novel, "Cecilia Valdés" by Cirilo Villaverde. The various characters were always discussing the varying shades of skin colour as markers of the social strata, from white landowners, to mullato craftsmen & musicians to black slaves. Much of the social interaction of course, was marked by sex and social climbing.

    It seems sometimes that not much has changed.

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