Luis Fernandez Torres
HAVANA TIMES — A few weeks ago, when I was heading towards Havana from the East of the island in a state interprovincial bus. One of the drivers spent a good part of the journey making jokes and telling stories that revolved around a few subjects: the most common was machismo, followed by bouts of regionalism in his version of “habaneros vs. orientales”.
At the beginning, it seemed that they were just a couple of jokes to try and improve our humor on a long and tedious 12 hour journey, however, when we saw that he wasn’t going to stop and especially that the subject of his jokes wasn’t changing, some of us passengers began to get uncomfortable and some even began to shout insults at the driver. Even though the man didn’t stop, we paasengers never went from being uncomfortable to protesting too much and we continued our journey putting up with the man’s attitude which sometimes made us want to bang our heads against the window.
In the long hours that our journey lasted, I thought about how we Cubans have become so used to the wide range of discrimination that raises its ugly head on a daily basis in the behavior of our fellow citizens. I thought about all the times I had seen it during my stay in the East for a month, which weren’t a few; even in some manifestations that are less common but that doesn’t make them less awful.
For example, the case of a couple made up of a black man and a woman descendent of our native tainos. The daughter of this marriage is a little mestizo girl who clearly has more Indian in her than black, however,her father insists on telling her, over and over again, that she is mulata, because in his line of thinking, a mulata is more “advanced” than an Indian. This way of thinking isn’t new to me, and it’s definitely not exclusive to our own country, it just confirms that, for many, native peoples are below blacks on the discriminatory ladder.
If we set aside the times we live in and where our island is situated just for a moment, we discover that evils like racism and machismo are also widely present in the world’s main cultural institutions, such as science and religion, belonging to many different civilizations in both the past and present.
There are many religions which, in some way of another, have had their original message stained, twisted or corrupted by separatist positions. From the countless different orders, sects and brotherhoods that exist exclusively for one sex or one race, to an exclusively masculine God. If the people that we normally put at the vanguard of society because of their scientific, spiritual or artistic contributions have these evils instilled in them, then, what chance do we ordinary mortals stand?
I think that the more you know about these phobias, the better our chances are of being able to free ourselves of them. If we were to do an abstraction exercise, I would say that all of these varieties of segregation have one coinciding point. This is a fear or rejection of what is different to us: white people discriminate against black people, heterosexuals against homosexuals, men against women, and all of the other different forms of discrimination.
These social sectors, marginalized for a long, long time, have been recovering their rights and the recognition that they always should have had; however, prejudices continue to exist, and in good health, in the majority of the population’s consciences.
Now, in our present, it is no longer socially acceptable for somebody to publicly mistreat someone for being different and so many have gone on to covert discrimination, based on tasteless jokes while in private. Within families, the seeds of segregation continue to be sowed.
So, the question is, how should a society like Cuba’s tackle these issues such as racism, machismo or homophobia, knowing that these evils have been living with humans for millennia without having been resolved? Will we continue to make advances and, after having embraced women, blacks and homosexuals, will Cuban society also propose to embrace those who think differently in terms of political opinions someday? Will pro-government supporters embrace dissidents one day?