Cubans Aren’t Racist, But…

Patricia Grogg

HAVANA TIMES, July 29 (IPS) — “I’m not racist, but at night, if I see three black men coming, I cross the street”; “I have a black friend, but I’d never accept him as my brother-in-law”; “Who me, racist? Not at all! But my daughter marrying a black man.” These are the kinds of comments that can frequently be heard in Cuba, where discrimination of any kind is prohibited by law.

Based on research at the Cuban Institute of Anthropology, the institute head, Pablo Rodríguez, described this as the “I’m not racist, but…” attitude, a common way of proclaiming that one is free of skin color prejudice, before expressing negative attitudes and rejection towards darker-skinned people.

“The Cuban revolution fostered rejection of discrimination, so people react negatively when they are accused of being racist, because they are aware that it’s considered ugly and is frowned on,” University of Havana Professor Esteban Morales told IPS. He added that racism is not necessarily aggressive or characterized by animosity, but is expressed in ways that need to be confronted.

In the view of Roberto Zurbano, an essayist and cultural critic, the problem is exacerbated by silence and by the lack of social debate. There is nowhere to complain of and prosecute the many instances of racial discrimination faced by black people “every three minutes, in the streets, at workplaces or study centers, in the media, on neighborhood street corners, in family arguments and even in bed,” he said.

“It is true that a lot of other issues also need to be discussed in Cuban society, but none of them has undermined the credibility of its social policies as much as this one, in the eyes of a black majority who see the revolution as their victory, their opportunity for self-fulfillment and their utopian horizon,” Zurbano wrote in his essay titled “Doce dificultades para enfrentar al (neo) racismo” (Twelve Difficulties for Challenging (Neo) Racism).

Blacks and people of mixed-race heritage officially make up 34.9 percent of Cuba’s total population of 11.2 million, according to the latest census, carried out in 2002. However, most Cuban academics estimate that between 60 and 70 percent of the population is black or “mulatto”.

Given the likelihood that the issue of racism will be on the agenda at the next national conference of the ruling Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), the Cofradía de la Negritud (CONEG), a civil society association of black people aimed at raising awareness of racial discrimination, set forth a total of 48 concrete proposals for action against discrimination and racial inequality.

“This is our contribution, and we hope it will be taken into account. We are assuming that the problem will almost certainly be discussed at the PCC Conference, and we would like it to be taken up also by the National Assembly (parliament),” Tato Quiñones, one of CONEG’s founders, told IPS.

The CONEG document, which is being circulated by e-mail, expands on demands and concerns raised at monthly meetings organized by CONEG, where experts in different social disciplines hold discussions with members of the public who are attending the meetings.

Several of the group’s proposals have to do with education, and they range from strengthening egalitarian and humanistic values, to introducing studies for teaching staff on “the contribution of black Africans and their descendants to economic progress in the country, and to the forging of the Cuban nationality and identity.”

Another proposal recommends “promoting appropriate coverage of racial issues in the media, from a scientific and multidisciplinary point of view that considers the different aspects of the racial question and fosters constructive debate in existing – and future – scenarios where opinions are shaped.”

The CONEG document also proposes eradicating the taboo on discussing race issues, and promoting a constructive approach to the question. In addition, it advocates fomenting sales of beauty products and services catering to darker-skinned people, as well as re-issuing new editions of the works of the main exponents of Cuban anti-racist thought.

In the view of Morales, a national agenda on the problem must include education as well as a social policy that recognizes and pays special attention to skin color as a factor in social differentiation, and must raise the debate on race issues at all levels of society.

“Racial issues should be discussed in the Cuban Workers’ Federation, the Women’s Federation, the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution and the mass media. On television, the question should be portrayed in soap operas, in order to inform people and make them understand that discrimination exists, because not everyone is willing to accept that it is a problem,” he said.

According to Morales, a leading researcher on race relations in Cuba, there is no immediate solution to the phenomenon of racism, which he says will require a great deal of work. “It isn’t just about raising living standards; it is more complex and more difficult, and involves a change of mentality and the creation of anti-discrimination consciousness,” he said.

Morales said racism must be challenged in a comprehensive way throughout society, without forgetting that expressions of racism occur even among the black or mixed-race population. “Racial discrimination goes beyond poverty, but a special development policy that takes skin color into account would go a long way toward solving it,” he said.

Zurbano, CONEG and Morales all stressed the triple burden of prejudice that weighs on darker-skinned Cuban women.

“Black women are the most vulnerable, because they are discriminated against on the grounds of skin color, poverty, and their sex. They are also more exposed to machismo and domestic violence,” Morales pointed out.

Civil society sources and some authorities interviewed by IPS gave the impression that discrimination on the grounds of race, and legislative bills supporting the freedom to choose one’s gender identity and sexual preferences, might well be on the agenda of the PCC Conference scheduled for April 2012.

However, in his speech on Jul. 26, Revolution Day – commemorating the 1953 assault on the Moncada barracks, the first armed action of the Cuban revolution – Vice President José Ramón Machado Ventura did not mention these issues as being included on the agenda for the important party conference.

7 thoughts on “Cubans Aren’t Racist, But…

  • As a student at Merritt College in Oakland, Newton became involved in politics in the Bay Area. He joined the Afro-American Association (AAA), became a prominent member of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity, Beta Tau chapter; and played a role in getting the first African-American history course adopted as part of the college’s curriculum. He read the works of Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, Frantz Fanon, Malcolm X, Mao Zedong, Émile Durkheim, and Che Guevara. During his time at Merritt College, he met Bobby Seale, and the two co-founded the Black Panther Party for Self Defense in October 1966.[5]

    Based on a casual conversation, Seale became Chairman and Newton became Minister of Defense.[10] Newton learned about black history from Donald Warden (who later would change his name to Khalid Abdullah Tariq Al-Mansour), the leader of the party. Later Newton concluded that Warden offered solutions that didn’t work. In his autobiography, Newton says, “The mass media, the oppressors, give him public exposure for only one reason: he will lead the people away from the truth of their situation.”[11]

    The Black Panther Party was an African-American left-wing organization working for the right of self-defense for African Americans in the United States. Newton said that the Black Panther Party’s beliefs were greatly influenced by Malcolm X: “Therefore, the words on this page cannot convey the effect that Malcolm has had on the Black Panther Party, although, as far as I am concerned, the testament to his life work.”[12] The Party achieved national and international renown through their deep involvement in the Black Power movement and the politics of the 1960s and 1970s.[13]

    The Party’s political goals, including better housing, jobs, and education for African Americans, were documented in their Ten-Point Program, a set of guidelines to the Black Panther Party’s ideals and ways of operation. The group believed that violence—or the threat of it—might be needed to bring about social change. They sometimes made news with a show of force, as they did when they entered the California Legislature fully armed in order to protest a gun bill.[14] They were from families that had left the South, where lynchings and other violence against blacks had caused thousands of deaths.

    Newton adopted what he termed “revolutionary humanism”.[15] Although he had earlier visited Nation of Islam mosques, he wrote that “I have had enough of religion and could not bring myself to adopt another one. I needed a more concrete understanding of social conditions. References to God or Allah did not satisfy my stubborn thirst for answers.”[16] Later, however, he stated that “As far as I am concerned, when all of the questions are not answered, when the extraordinary is not explained, when the unknown is not known, then there is room for God because the unexplained and the unknown is God.”[17] Newton later decided to join the Church[clarification needed] after the party disbanded during his marriage to Fredrika.[18]

    Newton would frequent pool halls, campuses, bars and other locations deep in the black community where people gathered in order to organize and recruit for the Panthers. While recruiting, Newton sought to educate those around him about the legality of self-defense. One of the reasons, he argued, why black people continued to be persecuted was their lack of knowledge of the social institutions that could be made to work in their favor. In Newton’s autobiography Revolutionary Suicide, he writes, “Before I took Criminal Evidence in school, I had no idea what my rights were.”[19][20]

    Newton also wrote in his autobiography, “I tried to transform many of the so-called criminal activities going on in the street into something political, although this had to be done gradually.” He attempted to channel these “daily activities for survival” into significant community actions. Eventually, the illicit activities of a few members would be superimposed on the social program work performed by the Panthers, and this mischaracterization would lose them support in both the white and black communities.[19][20]

    Newton and the Panthers started a number of social programs in Oakland, including founding the Oakland Community School, which provided high-level education to 150 children from impoverished urban neighborhoods. Other Panther programs included the Free Breakfast for Children Program and others that offered dances for teenagers and training in martial arts. According to Oakland County Supervisor John George: “Huey could take street-gang types and give them a social consciousness.”[21]

    In 1982, Newton was accused of embezzling $600,000 of state aid to the Panther-founded Oakland Community School. In the wake of the embezzlement charges, Newton disbanded the Black Panther Party. The embezzlement charges were dropped six years later in March 1989, after Newton pleaded no contest to a single allegation of cashing a $15,000 state check for personal use. He was sentenced to six months in jail and 18 months probation.[22]

    He had also expressed support for Palestinian independence.[23]

  • i suppose its true that in politics one can expect to make strange bedfellows or find themselves in the company of people that you wouldnt normally share oxygen with, but what has been absolutley fatal to the left is the continuous fawning and masturbating over damn near every despot the cosmos has provided us with. the above comment by comrade george is a perfect illustration of a complete lack of principles. supporting gadaffi because he supports the nation of islam? i dont even know where to begin with this other than to say that someone who supports either qadaffi or the racket of islam cannot in any serious sense be considerd to be apart of the honorable tradition of left radicals. the proper word here would be reactionary. and quoting huey newton, a violent drug addict who murderd happily and with no remorse? it is a slap in the face to people of colour to advertise heuy newton as a represenative of their concerns. untill the left can move past this bullshit of supporting anything that is deemed anti “yankee” the whole movement is doomed, which i think it already may be.

  • @Cimarron My point exactly… I don’t know where Patricia Grogg is from, I’m guessing the States… there is something about her presentation that smacks of “White” female vanity… following the Haitian Revolution, the Brazilian ruling class were so scared that they encouraged so called inter-racial marriages in order to create a buffer… they succeeded… “Black” Brazilians are still at the bottom of the social scale… a similar thing is happening now in the States… this is why I continue to support Gaddafi… a man who funds the Nation of Islam in the States whilst gaining the support of the BNP in Britain… we all have our games to try and get our leg over… to represent ourselves without being racist… that is a real challenge… Huey Newton the founder of the Black Panther Party once wrote an article on the difference between Revolutionary Nationalism and Reactionary Nationalism… he goes on to talk about how “White men” in their effort to become omnipotent administrators burdened the physical labour on “Blacks” and in doing so lost their masculinity… as Communists we are concerned with sharing labour, both physical and intellectual from each according to there capacity, to each according to their need…

  • One hopes that the debate in Cuba will not degenerate into or dwell too much on a discussion of aspects of social relations such as inter-marriage. The real issue is equal and complete access to government, all national institutions and national resources for Afro-Cubans. The marginalization of Afro-Cubans, especially in government, cannot be excused. It is even more incomprehensible given that Afro-Cubans, taken as a block, have been generally strong supporters of the revolution. The government of a country should look like the people of the country. Cuba cannot excuse its government looking overwhelmingly all white and blacks being prominent only in sports and music – the very graphic metaphor of racial imbalance that has been at the centre of the civil rights struggle here in the US. More important than who an Afro-Cuban can marry is whether the Afro-Cuban can be President, Minister of State, Foreign Minister, head of a university, a business enterprise etc, etc.

    Those who like to use Cuba’s noble internationalism as an argument against any deficiencies should consider what’s been happening in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Once upon a time, these countries were also very internationalist. Who would have thought that neo-nazism, racist violence and ultra-nationalist political groups could take root in these nations let alone flourish! How can it be explained that the former head of the Communist Youth League in East Germany is now the leader of the neo-nazi movement?

  • “I’m not racist, but at night, if I see three black men coming, I cross the street”; “I have a black friend, but I’d never accept him as my brother-in-law”; “Who me, racist? Not at all! But my daughter marrying a black man.”

    Cuban men of Spanish descent find Black women attractive but don’t know what to offer them… offering their daughters to their sons is just insulting…

  • In Cuba just as anywhere else there is racism against black people> But in Cuba all the people live side by side, in other words there is not really a neighborhood of just white or just black like in other countries. But of course racism its very profound and cannot be explained so easily. I think human beings are and will always make generalizations about certain groups of people.

  • I’m not racist but…We hear that same comment everywhere in the world I guess. I’m just suprised to see that that’s the kind of comment that we also hear in Cuba. I’ve always thought that Cuba was more open-minded due to the mix of culture that makes the soul of Cuba (in my own opinion of course!!). I guess I’m a little disapointed, but it seams that every nation has to grow…

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