Racist or What?

Rosa Martinez

HAVANA TIMES — When I was a child, I wouldn’t have accepted anyone telling me that there was racism in Cuba. In school, it was instilled in us that in our country there was no prostitution, poverty, drug addiction or racism.

Unfortunately, I experienced the years of the Special Period crisis and saw the emergence of those first three and I found out that the last one had never ceased to exist.

Not even my parents (she an elementary school teacher and he a carpenter) ever talked about the legacy of racism here.

Unfortunately, racism still lingers on our island, and this isn’t only determined because blacks are relegated to second-class jobs and generally don’t hold important positions in Cuban society.

Sometimes racist remnants are more easily perceived in ordinary situations, like in what happened to me and my little girl recently.

My daughter and I were leaving the nursery heading for home, but halfway there I decided to first visit a sick friend who lives near the school.

I talked for half an hour with the patient and when I was getting ready to leave my daughter Gissel made the curious comment: “Mommy, look how black Eduardo is! He’s just like Angela.”

I was taken aback by my child’s comment, because we’re a typical Cuban family where you can just as easily find members who are black, jabao (light-skinned), or olive complexioned – just about every color except completely white. So the fact that Eddie’s dark color caught her attention was beyond my understanding.

What I do know is that my friend got really upset and said: “Yes Gissel, Eddie is very dark, but he has the same rights as you.”

At first I felt a little embarrassed about the situation my daughter had created and I replied without hesitation: Yes, “mimi,” he’s as dark as Angela, and also as dark as your uncle Fabian, your cousin Lina and a few other members of the family.

Although my first thought was to believe that my daughter was going to be a racist, then I asked myself if she was actually half racist or whether my friend was half stupid.



7 thoughts on “Racist or What?

  • One has to wonder what/who/why/how/when brought prostitution AIDS HIV and other STUFF to Cuba? Just asking
    As for racism, i know how and why that is and has always been a part of our culture.

  • “It should have been Cuba that elected the first Black president, given the professed ideals of the revolution.”

    And he openly acknowledges Islam as a fundamentally sound religion, and he openly supports homosexual marriage and equal rights, and he is socializing the US even further, and he has been an economic boon. We look forward to another 4 years of bragging about him to the world. We plan on holding this over everyone’s heads for as along as possible.

    Next we are going to elect a woman, Hilary almost had it Cantwell is prime for the claim.

  • Like tita said, your daughter made an observation. Plus, she learned through your angered friend a valuable lesson that hopefully will stay with her for the rest of her life.

  • I find no useful purpose in focusing on petty incidents such as a child’s racial curiosity bluntly expressed. As a tourist in Havana, I found Cubans of all races extremely friendly towards me as a black person. To be sure two Afro-Cuban rasta friends complained bitterly about harassment by the police but I never witnessed this myself. What I have come to find disturbing, shocking, and unacceptable in later years is the prevalent absence of blacks in the racial composition of the Cuban government structure and most important positions on this multiracial island. Add to this the major media institution, Cubabision (the TV broadcaster), that unreservedly acts as if Afro-Cubans were non-existent or a tiny, insignificant minority.,

    With regard to the political leadership, there is no question now in my mind that, despite Cuba’s remarkable internationalist assistance to African and Caribbean countries, the historic leadership has no desire to share power with Afro-Cubans. I make this statement as a saddened but continuing supporter of the Cuban Revolution (or perhaps rather its ideals). Fidel Castro incontestably has tremendous dialectical prowess but objectively examining the ratio of Afro-Cubans in his government till he retired leads one to conclude he could not surmount. the defect of racial preference. I see no radical departure from this racial tendency since Raul Castro took over either..

    Likewise with Cuban TV, one hardly sees any Black program presenters. I counted 2 black news readers and reporters the last period I watched their broadcasts (via a local Spanish TV channel as well as via Cubavision’s internet live feed). Of course, from time to time, they’ll throw in Afro-Cuban folkloric dance performances and the telenovelas stuck in the era of slavery, such as “Sol de Batey”, with their depressing cast of blacks in slave roles.. Never anything contemporary showing black Cubans in professional and government leadership roles. I use to watch episode after episode of “Mesa Redonda and wondered if there were no black Cuban experts of any kind to contribute to the discussion! Yes, once or twice I did see the renown University of Havana professor, Esteban Morales Domínguez. but given the extraordinary non-inclusion of blacks, I truly did wonder at times whether Randy Alonso had any black friends!.

    It should have been Cuba that elected the first Black president, given the professed ideals of the revolution. It was after all a Cuban cosmonaut, Brigade-General Arnaldo Tamayo Méndez, who was the first Black, Latino and Caribbean person to go into space in 1980. Well, the General is a deputy in parliament but will most unlikely ever be appointed head of the Air Force or Defence Minister. Such top level positions in Cuba appear to be reserved for non-blacks. I have no illusion either that Cuba will have a black president in this century!

  • Moses, this is the first positive thing I’ve read you say about Cuba. Can you not see that the fact that “racial” issues are better in Cuba is precisely because of the Revolution and that the resurgence of racism is precisely because of the reintroduction of capitalist elements following the collapse of the Soviet Union? You can argue that some of the differences stem from the difference between the Spanish and the British in how they treated Africans, but how do you account for the fact that Cuba has almost as many “Black” doctors as the U.S. with a fraction of the population? With regards to the article, the innocent observation by a child that someone is darker than someone else is not a problem, we are all different, the problem is the implications. The friend felt threatened by the observation because of the resurgence of racism on the island, and likewise the author felt embarrassed. If there was no racism one could make such observations without fear. Thus it is not the observation that is racist but rather the surrounding world.

  • The fact that the Cuban version of racism as compared to the US is milder and less mean-spirited does not make it any less real. Worse yet, because most Cubans continue to deny its existence, it is far more dangerous at times than the racist monster in the US. Racism in Cuba is the largest contributor to the growing class division. Economic and migration reforms have largely been unnoticed by afrocubans while white cubans appear to benefit the most. Still, if I had to choose between the two, I would take the racism in Cuba over what exists in the US.

  • Differences are not deficiencies. Pointing out the differences DOESN’T mean that one is attaching a moral quality to the differences and is therefore not racist. Saying that one has lesser rights because of the differences would be racist.

Comments are closed.