HAVANA TIMES, Dec. 28 – Like many people, I had the opportunity to read the article that appeared on November 30 in the Nuevo Herald (Miami) with a statement by a group of US African-American intellectuals in support of the struggle for civil rights in Cuba. I also read the rebuttal article by Pedro de la Hoz and the letter signed by Cuban intellectuals, both published in the Granma newspaper on Wednesday, December 9. I am not nor do I pretend to be an intellectual, much less a specialist in racial issues. I’m simply a person who lives and works in this country. Nor do I believe the fact that I’m a black person is relevant, because the debate on the racial question in our country is a matter that has to do with everyone; what happens is that this question is almost immediately associated with black people. Although Granma newspaper didn’t publish the declaration by the African-American intellectuals, Pedro de la Hoz made reference to excerpts in which they described Cuba as a racist society that disregards black people. Likewise, their statement affirmed that our civil freedoms are hindered by reasons of race.
I have a very critical vision on the racial question in Cuba, but I believe that to analyze it without keeping in mind the efforts made by the Cuban Revolution at the moment of its victory and later accomplishments is not objective. Moreover, it’s hard to believe that good intentions could be behind any other assessment. The Cuban Revolution meant the dismantlement of social structures that supported racial discrimination. That is an undeniable reality. But the fact of having destroyed the structures of a racist society -with beaches and clubs where black people could not enter, and even parks where segregation existed- did not mean escaping from a euro-centric vision of the world and history. A History without Africa In Cuban schools, children don’t study the history of the African continent. It seems that the history of blacks began with our arrival as slaves onto the American continent. When I was in elementary school I studied the history of Greece and Rome, though all that I studied about Africa was Egypt.
The history I studied about the Middle Ages was centered on Europe, as was modern history. Why don’t we study the history of the regions from where our ancestors came, given the strong African roots of our culture? How is it possible that we don’t study more about the history of the continent where it is affirmed the human species arose? What caught my attention in the letter by the Cuban intellectuals was the excerpt that refers to the commemoration of the founding of the Independent Party of Color “on the basis of recovering that historical memory of a stage of struggle and desires of the Cuban people.” If it is necessary to recover that memory, this means it was lost; just as we had lost the historical memory on the five black Abakuá members who attempted to rescue the eight medical students on November 27, 1871. Was it necessary to wait for the centennial of the founding of that party or the publication of a declaration that accuses our society of being racist to recover these memories? The day following the publication of the article, Pedro de la Hoz -who I greatly respect- addressed the issue on the Roundtable television program. There he referred to the huge prison population in the United States, where black prisoners are mistreated more than white prisoners. However, he also recognized that not everything has been resolved in Cuba, because racial prejudice still subsists. Although Pedro de la Hoz is right when referring to the prison population in the United States, he should remember that most of the prison population in Cuba is made up of black people, that a high percent of people living under conditions of marginalization in our country are also black, and that the policemen here primarily stop black people in the street to ask them for their identification. Likewise, racist stereotypes are also presented on Cuban television, where blacks continue being the criminals on police programs. US Racism doesn’t Erase Cuba’s Social and Racial Problems
Many examples of the extreme forms of racism that exists in the United States could be mentioned, not only against blacks but also against Latinos and people of Arab and Asian origin, but that would not erase the racial and social problems that exist in our society. It is true that there no longer exist places in Cuba where a black person cannot enter due to the color of their skin. However, until very recently there were places where a Cuban could not enter due to the simple fact of being Cuban. In any case, allowing Cubans to now enter these places only evidences the marked social differences that still exist in our country; that’s to say, the problem is even greater. I don’t believe that the declaration constitutes a point of departure for anything, because there are many people in Cuba who have been promoting debate on the racial question for a while. They have been speaking out about the under-representation of blacks in the spheres of politics, academics, science and others. Nonetheless, the issue has not been discussed enough in the official media. There has not been enough recognition of the existing conflicts and mistakes. Yet suddenly it seems that African-Americans are the ones who have to worry about our problems and -to top it off- a newspaper such as the Nuevo Herald has to defend our rights?