“Racism and Violence, a Perverse Relationship”

By Pilar Montes

Conversando. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES – A song by Cuban pop duo Buena Fe goes: “And that woman with bruises will say she slipped in the wind, I fell in the sea, goes back to the kitchen to hide tears behind onions.”

There are updated stats in Cuba about physical and psychological violence not only against women and girls, but also against boys and men, although to a lesser degree.

A gender equality survey (which hadn’t been carried out in 30 years), was implemented in 2016 by the Federation of Cuban Women’s (FMC) Women’s Studies Center (CEM) and Cuba’s Office of Statistics (ONEI), with the help of the UN Population Fund, UN Women, UN Development Programme (UNDP) and other United Nations bodies.

“For the first time, data relating to gender violence was collected via a national survey and never to this extent before,” Mayda Alvarez, director of the Women’s Studies Center (CEM), told the press.

These are some partial conclusions drawn from the survey, which included a sample size of 19,189 women and men aged between 15 and 74 years old, across the country:

A figure of 77.6% of men surveyed and 80.1% of women believed that gender violence was justified (among other alleged reasons) when she had been unfaithful or because she didn’t do the household chores, which proves that the majority accept abuse if they are because of the two above-mentioned reasons.

Over a third of the women surveyed making such a statement proves that there is still a long road ahead, but that there is at least more awareness of the problem among victims.

Anyway, even though 81.4% of the population surveyed recognize that gender violence against women and children exists, the way in which people surveyed labeled this violence was very different and interesting: more than half, 51.8% believe it’s little; 29.7% believe it’s a lot; while 9.6% said that there isn’t any violence and 7.9% say they don’t know anything about the issue.

Retired doctor Rolando J. Naranjo-Alvarez, an expert in racism and violence studies, told Havana Times that we need to understand some elements about modern biogenetics, because referring to the relationship between racism and violence he says that “it has been scientifically proven that there are 23,000 genes in a human genome and only three or four of these influence skin color.”

“There are no races: there are only various alterations in human beings… which do not change their identity and nature…”, Jose Marti said, words which according to Naranjo, science confirmed a century after the Apostle wrote them down.

Naranjo says that “in the Cuban population, individuals have 69% of European DNA, 19% African and 12% indigenous and/or Asian DNA.”

The doctor highlights that, “a single nucleotide of the largest molecule of nucleic acid which makes up genes can mutate up to 38 million times, which partly explains the great diversity we see in people’s phenotype,” referring to the global population.

Both racial prejudice and violence exist in any regular environment, as it forms a part of society’s ethnic groups to some or lesser degree, where different opinions normally develop.

“An example, maybe overused,” the expert points out, “is skin color which took center-stage at one time in history and still does.”

Race doesn’t determine behavior

Racism stems from humankind’s social evolution, in Naranjo’s opinion, and became an ideological phenomenon when race was used as a determinant for behavior.

“Racism has given rise to the appearance and perpetuation of hierarchical structures, with the consequent internalization and absolute lack of respect of the ‘other’,” the Cuban doctor says.

There are more black inmates in prisons than white inmates! is something we regularly hear, but statistics lose their value if you look at China, when you compare this statement to a reality that has a different social context and black inmates hardly exist, Naranjo points out.

“Ambassadors of racism during colonization, were the consciousness of cultural identity and imposing dominant relationships using race which, luckily, loses subjective sense and prejudice when we remember that there is only one human genome,” Naranjo reminds us.

Innate or learned violence?

“Racism coincides with violent behaviors, where an important problem is hidden in a person’s non-integral education in different stages of personal development,” the doctor explains.

“Violence is perceived for its consequences rather than for its causes, it’s an inter-human imposition with a significant level of preventable pain and suffering which leads to death or injury and increases social costs,” the specialist says.

Some of its negative consequences include a deterioration in quality of life and repercussions in the productive and economic sectors.

“Violence has continued to spread for milennia,” he adds, “explaining its classification as a serious personal problem, of families, group and communities on the whole.”

Contemporary science does not label human beings as a natural aggressive, Naranjo reminds us. However, this legacy of violence has accompanied the evolution of the Homo Sapiens as a historic and cultural tradition.

It’s in human nature to use power against others and for their own benefit. Ecological and environmental damage are examples of this, as are immigration, unemployment, illiteracy and poverty, in general.

All of the labyrinth surrounding gender, promiscuity, some religious practices, the arms industry, shortcomings in health and the inappropriate use of mass media, also adds to this, Naranjo adds.

In family environments, overcrowding, dysfunctional homes, patriarchal ideas and neglect of children or the elderly, as well as racial intolerance stand out, which are learned behaviors. 

How do you measure violence?

In this regard, doctor Naranjo believes that you can’t measure violence with “extremely biased indicators such as: homicide or murder rate, number of rapes,” because statistics are based on abuse that is reported, when unreported abuse provides much higher statistics.” 

On the other hand, the doctor adds that it is necessary to count “the mutilated, as a result of armed conflict or as a result of natural disasters,” which are so frequent today.

“Racism, as a form of prejudice and practice (both ideologically and behaviorally) is a form of structural/cultural violence, which is greatly connected to the indirect results of economic policies,” the scientist says.

“This is why it is believed that needs don’t dictate human behavior, but the socially accepted ways to satisfy these needs and in many environments, racial prejudice and violence become consubstantial to this reality,” Naranjo believes.

“The main source is the position it takes in your life and the level of lasting satisfaction you have with personal achievements in education, work, job or profession and the family,” the interviewee claims.

The doctor concludes that “violence and racism are linked to racial prejudice a lot of the time, regardless of the changes that humanity is advocating for in recent time,” which is why this expert says “we need to fight these negative trends with everything we have.”