Osmel Ramirez Alvarez
HAVANA TIMES — Over the last few weeks, there have been a number of posts published here on Havana Times dealing with the subject of racism. I have appreciated the large cause for concern that this awful scourge has sparked in the majority of those who have written articles and commented. Many of them emphasize the persistence of racism in our country and accuse the Cuban Revolution of being racist.
I am a socialist-democrat who criticizes the Revolution’s mistakes in adherence to what is right and the political, economic and social reality that we’re living. However, the fact that I disagree with our authoritarian regime doesn’t mean that I should exaggerate on a subject where I have seen and know very little, just to add disgrace: I prefer to be fair. This is the spirit that moves my opinions and although I’m no expert in the subject, I can at least explain what I have seen and make my contribution to this debate.
I’m from the Holguin province, where most of the population is white. I studied in its capital city, which goes by the same name, for three years and I worked there another two years. I would be a liar if I told you that I saw one act of racism. Yes I have met many white or mestizo people who said that they didn’t like to go out with a black person, arguing trivialities. I see it as a question of hypothetical tastes because sometimes they say these things and then end up going out with a black person and accept it easily.
It’s true that the persistence or non-persistences of inherited racist prejudices are tested when couples are involved. Yes, things do go on within families and these guarded low attitudes like strongholds in the subconscience do surface, but they normally disappear soon enough. That’s the truth of the matter.
We can say that racism here in Cuba, just like in the rest of the world, hasn’t died out completely but it has been decimated. There is still prejudice and socio-economic consequences that have been dragging on throughout the centuries. It’s a great challenge to put an end to this debt and clearly it hasn’t been dealt with enough so as to successfully get rid of it entirely. Luckily, in Cuba we don’t have openly white supremacy people; and if we do they are very discreet because nobody knows who they are and they don’t reveal themselves as such.
With regard to targeted racism by the Government and the Revolution, I would like to make another analysis. I don’t know what goes on inside our leaders’ minds, but at least from what they reveal, and in line with what has been written down in law, they have demonstrated that they are against racism. It is fair to recognize the fact that the Revolution saved Cuba a long fight for black people’s civil rights.
The problem is that those who came into power and held leadership positions were almost all white, due to a problem of cultural hegemony at the time. The same thing happened in the wars for independence. More and more black people filled important positions along the way, however, while the ascent was spontaneous, they continued to be a minority due to white cultural hegemony, which continues to exist today. This brought a lot of international criticism upon the Cuban Revolution, labeling it “racist”. And consequently, more black figures are being promoted rather than white, deliberately, which has been going on for quite some time now.
I believe that what we have to do isn’t to promote black people at the expense of white people, because that would be another form of inverse discrimination. The logical thing to do would be to create special social programs directed at black people so that we can achieve a cultural balance among all of the Cuban population in the medium term; and therefore, they will grow proportionally in number according to their achievements.
Right now, we have a system that chooses our representatives and leaders at all levels with a tap on the shoulder, and it can create a strategy advocating racial equality, however, when democracy comes it should be spontaneous and the problem will resurface if we don’t resolve it at its root.
I share Jose Marti’s own thoughts when he said, “When you say “men,” you have already imbued them with all their rights.” If a leader is black he isn’t so just to represent black people, or to give preference to black people; and the same goes for a white leader. A Cuban leader, no matter what the color of their skin is, should represent all Cubans.
What is really happening is that the Revolution only points out its achievements and if there had been an instance of racism, it would have hid it in the same way it does with political protests or any other “uncomfortable” problems. They don’t legally allow spontaneous groups from civil society to form either out of fear that they may become influential and oppose them, not even when they have fair reason to protest such as that of fighting against the remains of racism.
Years ago, along with some of my friends, I tried to create a Marti club in my workplace and they didn’t let us because it had to stem from the Communist Youth (UJC) or the Communist Party (PCC); just imagine if they’d let an organization form which highlights problems of racism, one of the government’s main achievements to shine immaculately in foreign eyes.
Farinas can die tomorrow because of his hunger strike, his protest fallen on the Government’s deaf ears, and it won’t be because he’s black, but because he’s dissenting. On the other hand, to say that the Revolution “made black people people” is a racist expression and a cheap chauvinistic shot. Part of this manipulative strategy is to throw the Revolution’s social achievements in our faces, as if it didn’t cost us anything to forcefully renounce our rights which are crucial to our human dignity.
Being correct is not confusing one thing with another: the Revolution has a lot of problems with democracy and human rights and that then also affects independent civil society’s fight against racism. However, accusing it of being “racist” seems a little bit exaggerated, unless of course there is evidence to prove the contrary. It would be safer and fairer to judge it for its obvious flaws, without that meaning abandoning the fight against any remains of racism: that should be more than enough.