Speaking About Discrimination in Cuba

Veronica Vega

Guagua-de-nocheHAVANA TIMES — My colleague’s post, Cuba: Reasoable Doubt or Blatant Racism?, reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend some time ago. At the end of our debate, she, a black woman who had suffered various forms of segregation from childhood, agreed with me about how relative the causes behind discrimination can be.

These can go from the superiority of a culture’s resources and strategies, as suffered by civilizations that were conquered and eliminated, through the stigmatization perpetrated by power groups interested in political and economic control, as in the case of the Jews, to literal interpretations of religious precepts which social changes make unviable and atrophy the lives of women under fundamentalist regimes.

These problems tend to deepen because, once the norm has been established, subsequent generations cling to its thought patterns and not even new laws can radically change the collective consciousness based on them. It takes much longer to eradicate an ill than to adopt it. To make matters worse, other complex factors tend to increase this circular inertia.

Once, while watching a film about the Roman empire, I realized that, even though history lessons teach us that these civilizations enslaved people of the same race (white people, that is), every time I hear the word “slave”, I immediately associate it to a black person.

If we want to be honest, we would have to say that, even after slavery was abolished in the West, when modern societies were at their economic and cultural peak, servants (of any color) were commonly treated with the same contempt that marks the abyss between the upper and subjugated classes, a gap that is apparently insurmountable, as it still exists.

Of course, such a gap exists also in Cuba, the anomalous product of experiments in socialism and social justice. In the anecdote Yusimi shared, describing how a police officer asked to see her ID while we were gathering seashells at the beach, she forgot to mention that the officer addressed me, asked where I lived and, when I replied with an unequivocally Cuban accent, immediately asked to see my ID as well. In the blink of an eye, we were both equally “suspicious.”

The already difficult condition of being Cuba is worsened by the second, implicit category, that of being an “average Cuban”, a category through which whites, blacks and peoples of mixed race are discriminated on a daily basis, by whites, blacks and people of mixed race who are in a position of relative institutional or economic power.

As a woman, I have often suffered subtle and not-so-subtle variants of discrimination, attitudes that do not exactly bother me or make me feel worse, but which are part of a male chauvinistic tradition that is very difficult to uproot, particularly since it is nourished and reproduced by women themselves.

To mention a straightforward example, while among (male) intellectuals, I have felt the a priori dismissal of female intelligence in person, stemming from the fact that humanity’s intellectual, scientific and even artistic legacy is, for the most part, made up of male achievements.

At intellectual circles, it is also easy to fall under a rather uncomfortable category if one does not identify with the most widely accepted ideology, which can well be left-wing. It is even easier to be disparaged as mentally challenged for believing in god, and saying so, in a circle of agnostics and materialists.

I can point to a more extreme example to further illustrate this point: many a time, I have felt the victim of discrimination while with common people, only because I don’t like salsa music or reggaeton, and do enjoy classical music. I am made to feel guilty and even “elitist.”

Among those who take part in the repugnant reprisals against dissidents, I have often seen black people (some very expressive in their rage) and have wondered whether homosexuals, or anyone who has felt excluded because of the way they think, their sexual orientation, social status, or simply for not fitting the aesthetic cannon in vogue (one of the oldest forms of discrimination), also participate in those spectacles. As Kafka wisely said, “a man plagued by his own devils takes revenge on his fellow man without giving it a thought.”

What, then, can we expect for the mentally ill, the alcoholics, the destitute that abound in the city?

Discrimination is born of incomprehension and, above all else, a lack of sensitivity. I have seen people who have picked up many stray dogs and cats and cared for them (despite financial limitations) been rejected as “dirty”. No one gives them left-overs or cleaning products for these pets. No one feels that they are taking on a responsibility evaded by others, much less the State.

In our scale of values, animals of course occupy the lowest level: they can die in cruel sacrifices, scientific experiments, or at the hands of sadists.

Lastly, in the brutal fight for survival that is spreading across Cuba more and more, I see the elderly and the disabled being savagely displaced, such that, pushing fifty, I am already preparing myself for the may subtle and not-so-subtle forms of discrimination in store for me.

Veronica Vega

Veronica Vega: I believe that truth has power and the word can and should be an extension of the truth. I think that is also the role of Art and the media. I consider myself an artist, but above all, a seeker and defender of the Truth as an essential element of what sustains human existence and consciousness. I believe that Cuba can and must change and that websites like Havana Times contribute to that necessary change.

6 thoughts on “Speaking About Discrimination in Cuba

  • Who’s responsibility is it for changing the African-American culture to accept excellence, and political diversity, among their people as something to be proud of, not something to shame (ie. your experience as a football player and president of the French club)?

    I don’t deny that racism still exists, but it is also true that some people use racism as an excuse for their own failures or weaknesses. I have also seen racist acts and language directed at whites from blacks. I’m not saying this to draw equivalences, but to point out that the scourge of racism exists in many hearts.

    Some opposition to President Obama is based on racism. But not all of it. Not even the majority of it. There are many perfectly good reasons to disagree with his policies and performance on several issues. Without going into arguments over the merits of specific policies, let’s just agree that liberals and conservatives will always disagree on these policies, no matter who is in office.

    I have also read many pundits and columnists who feel that the Obama Administration, and or their media allies, have on several occasions injected race into policy discussions as a way to demonize their political opponents and of avoiding reasonable discussion. In that sense, they can share the blame for the worsening in race-relations.

    Just the other day, an article in HuffPo accused Rep. Mia Love, the daughter of Haitian immigrants, and who is the first African-America elected to Congress from Utah, of having got ahead because of “white privilege”. Sure. There has been a great deal of racist invective directed toward Rep. Mia Love, Sen. Tim Scott and the other African-Americans elected for the Republican party. For some reason, being black and Republican (like the great man in your avatar) is cause for the vilest racist outbursts from some of your fellow liberals. Recall the abuse heaped on Condi Rice and Colin Powell. Like I said, the scourge of racism exists in many hearts.

    Finally, you must be aware that the vast majority (93%) of homicides of African-Americans are committed by other African-Americans. If you are concerned for the safety of your people, that problem should receive some attention. The focus on cases such as the shooting of Michael Brown, who according to several eye witnesses attacked Officer Darren Wilson and attempted to grab his gun, does not help the cause of fighting racism in America. On the contrary, it feeds racism, by providing racists (both black and white varieties) with excuses for the worst sort of behaviour. Wilson did not shoot Brown because President Obama is black. George Zimmerman voted for Obama. Neither incident had anything to do with the race of the US President.

    By the way, one of the names mentioned as a possible GOP candidate for President, is Dr. Ben Carson. If you haven’t heard of him, you should look him up: he has had quite an impressive career. No doubt he will attract some racist crap from the neanderthal corners of the Republican Party. But I will bet he will get even more grief from crypto-racist white liberals as well as from African-American Democrats calling him a race-traitor.

    The scourge of racism exists in many hearts.

  • Since discrimination is a perennial condition of the human mind–be it racism, classism, religious intollerance, etc–one solution is to turn this fault to your own benefit by choosing not to associate with those who make their judgements on such bases (or only tolerating them, if you must, if they are your work colleagues, neighbors, etc.). If you look around, you will find those who judge you based on your character, your sensitivity, and your interests. Also, one of the best defenses against adapting these prejudices yourself is by having a strong sense of self–or as Popeye sez: “I am what I am what I am!”

  • I took a few extra days to ponder your comment. Given the conservative political views of Senator-elect Scott, his remarks are no surprise to me. I heard the same comments in my youth from my black peers. I was Captain of my High School Football team AND President of the French Club. Talk about living in two worlds! Many young blacks, victims themselves, are quick to make their black friends feel victimized in order to make sense of the nonsense that the scourge of racism has wrought in their world. Aka, misery loves company. I agree that race relations in the US have worsened. Since the election of Barack Obama, the racist backlash has worsened overall black/white relations. The racist element throughout the US, from the backwoods to Halls of Congress have simple never accepted that the highest office in the land is held by a Black man. Their outrage manifests in nearly every aspect of American life, from the gunning down of unarmed young black males to calls for impeachment of the President. This open aggression is a reflection of the increase in racism in the US.

  • I have to say that discrimination has not race, color, gender or in fact, anything. I was discriminated because I was born in a different race, color, because of my accent, location of my hometown, my economic situation (being too poor or even too well off), my believe or even my body weight!

    We just have to admit that discrimination has no reason but stupidity itself!

  • I read an interesting comment about racism from an African-American who was elected to the US Senate a few days ago:

    Tim Scott (R-S.C.) won a historic victory in Tuesday’s primary election, becoming the first black man elected to the Senate since Reconstruction, but according to him, race relations in this country are worse compared to several years ago.

    “I probably tilt towards it’s a little worse than it was several years ago. Over the last couple of years, what I’ve seen happen – and it’s unfortunately happening by our own peers. When I was a high school kid, I heard so often, ‘You’re just not black enough.’ I’m not sure what that was supposed to mean, but simply said, too many kids today are facing a choice of dumbing down in order to fit in. I would say to them: Don’t fit in,” he said.

    “And we should all be speaking out, because there shouldn’t be a single stereotypical definition of what it means to be black enough. We should all be looking first and foremost at how much of an American are you,” he added.


    Well said, and congratulations to Senator Scott.

  • As always, a very thoughtful article from Veronica.

    It seems that discrimination, intolerance and prejudice come in all shapes and sizes, colours, genders, orientations, religions, ethnicities, disabilities, ages, races and creeds. Is prejudice a natural inclination of the human species?

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