Notions of Race in Cuba

Yanelys Nuñez Leyva

Dominos in Havana. Photo: Bill Klipp

HAVANA TIMES — Since the middle of September, I’ve been attending a graduate level course every Thursday on “Notions of Race in Cuba.”

The dynamics of this course entails a series of presentations delivered by different researchers from various scientific disciplines.

Because of this, I’ve received a rich body of information, ranging from the origins of humankind, tracing the most significant expressions of racism in world history, to the particularities of race conflict in Cuba.

According to the organizers (scholars Antonio J. Martinez and Esteban Morales, acting in conjunction with the School of Biology of the University of Havana|), this is the first time a course of this nature has been offered, so being a part of this experience makes me very proud.

Those taking the course make up a highly diverse group in terms of age and fields of study, an element that enriches the discussions that take place after each class.

What has caught my attention in these “weekly engagements” are the critical reassessments made by the speakers with regard to many concepts that are deeply established in the cultural perspective of our society (e.g., notions of race, racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia etc.).

These reassessments aim to examine objective truths and to perhaps eliminate the misinformation and stereotypes that do so much damage to social relations in our country.

Such a graduate course has never been more appropriate on the national academic scene.

It immerses everyone in an environment of social convulsion, which is necessary since we’ll only achieve true transformation if we’re able to recognize the many values that unite us as Cubans and as human beings.

8 thoughts on “Notions of Race in Cuba

  • Perhaps an answer to your piece would be found in the ROOT work

  • i am a native born Angolan raised in Cuba and am a Cuban cit who is as tan as a cafe latte and as AFRIKAN AS CHAKA ZULKU..My issue is with writers from all over the world who continue to hawk RACE complexion and hue?
    I am sick and tired of other people making the attempt to assign race to Cubans as a topic Are ther any humans in the pic? What is it with color and skin hue and tone black white and in between What happened to the colorado?
    Now for those who are not Cuban, please do not try to respond its obvious that you don’t get it and neither does the writer Sorry i am not impressed CIRCLES HELP!!

  • A black Cuban told me the country is still plagued with racism, that there is no unity among the people and that the ruling class likes it that way. He also said the people aren’t aloud to talk about racism and are called counter-revolutionary if they do.

  • This article is very encouraging. I had the pleasure of meeting Esteban Morales in 2007 on the island. He has been a courageous, dedicated scholar in his persistent discussion of racial issues in Cuba. As a Chicano whose community lies at the bottom of the U.S. racial hierarchy, especially in my home state of California, I am very interested in how Cuba addresses racism. I hope that Cuban schools are doing more to infuse the contributions of Afro Cubans in school curriculum that deals with Cuban history, literature, theatre, music, etc. The efforts of Chicanos in Tucson, Arizona to embed the Chicano experience in the school curriculum, which was outlawed, bear witness to the power of such curriculum in transforming students.

  • Excuse me for noting that there seems still to be much racism by “white” Cubans against “black” Cubans. Even among people who can be reasonable in their discussions about most topics there seems to be an amazing ignorance .. amazing after the initiatives taken by Cuba to rid the island of this anachronism. I must note as well that inevitably such expressions of racism come from Cubans who are in effect counter revolutionaries, preferring American (i.e. capitalist) values.

  • The problem with addressing racism in Cuba is that, unlike the problem in the US, racism in Cuba is largely seen as non-existent. As a result, the first step must be to acknowledge that the problem exists. Mosts whites in Cuba openly declare that Cuba does not have a problem with race. Most blacks, only in private, will acknowledge that the problem exists. Granted, after open and widespread dialogue regarding racism in the US, the problems still persist. Maybe just talking about it is not enough. What is certain is that NOT talking about solves nothing.

  • Two thoughts come to mind immediately:
    1. “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, the point is to change it” (Carlos Marx, Theses on Feuerbach) and

    2. “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.” (Ancient English proverb circa 14th century).

    I have followed many discussions on the question of race in Cuba over the last 2 decades, and from Cuban sources such as reports of the PCC congresses published in Granma International, particularly the speeches by Fidel. 2012 should not have been another year to discuss this issue as a novelty. Nobody should get me wrong. I do not expect post-revolutionary Cuba to fundamentally surmount the centuries-old problem of race where the United States has failed in two centuries to completely eradicate them. However, the US is certainly ahead of Cuba when it comes to diversity in government and state institutions, even if this transformation is somewhat superficial or symbolic in terms of actual sociopolitical change. Nevertheless, it should have been possible to see a progressive Colin Powell, a progressive Condoleeza or Susan Rice and, above all, a progressive Barack Obama emerge in Cuba after 50 years of revolution.

    I came across a biography of Mariana Grajales, the heroic matriarch ot the exceptionally heroic Maceo family, which I must share:

    This biography debunks the impression that blacks in Cuba have been passive witnesses to Cuba’s historic liberation struggles and revolutionary ferment. Far from it, Afro-Cubans, as symbolized by the Maceo family, the Mambises, and many others, have been actively involved, and they do not deserve the marginalized political and administrative roles they have been consigned to. The writings of Alberto Jones and Pedro Perez Sarduy convincingly show that Afro-Cubans have been integral combatants in the Cuba’s political struggles and realization of national identity.

    As I have written once before on this forum, the contemporary experience of the former Soviet Union and the countries of Eastern Europe should be highly instructive to Cubans on the dangers ahead, if they do not strive to deal with racial inequality and marginalization in Cuba. That the head of the Communist Youth organization in East Germany could be the same person who founded the neo-nazi movement after unification should be an eye-opener to any doubting Thomases. That St Petersburg, the Russian city that suffered a most monstrous and tragic Nazi siege, beyond words, beyond sorrow itself, could become the current hotbed of neo-nazi youth activity that has proved fatal to African, Peruvian, and Vietnamese students as well as people from the Central Asian Republics, should also be kept in mind.

    It is my hope that this new openness and systematized discussion of the question of race in Cuba will not degenerate and use as a yardstick of progress interracial social relations but rather focus on diversity in political and administrative governance of the country – a new, truly participatory, social democracy in the country for all!.

  • Sounds like a great course. I especially like your phrase, in the last paragraph, Yanelys, about achieving “true transformation.” I now consider myself a transformationary, rather than a revolutionary, because it is a more accurate description of what we socialists are about.

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