Race Matters in Cuba
http://www.havanati mes.org/? p=10901
Race Matters in Cuba
By Sandra Alvarez Ramirez*
July 3, 2009
HAVANA TIMES, July 3 (IPS) - A recurrent fallacy in the discussion of racial consciousness being raised in Cuba at the moment is the fact of speaking only about that which concerns blacks when dealing with the issue of race.
It is as if restricting the analysis of what is occurring to negritude. This aspect can be explained by the fact that black people, for the most part, have been those who have historically experienced the particularities of racism and racial discrimination in Cuba, and how this has soaked deeply into current Cuban society. Blacks have been main ones who have helped to examine diverse topics of this Cuban social reality, such as the treatment of black people by the media and in publicity, especially the female body; black aesthetics; the role of the family in the formation of racial identities; slavery in the establishment of racist thought; discriminatory stereotypes present in the social imagination, the participation of black people and mestizos in the nation’s history, the social representation of black men and women, among other themes.
Another of the controversial questions related to racial consciousness is which name should be used when one speaks of black people? ”A person of African descent,” “Afro-Cuban” or simply “black” are the variety of available nouns, each of them having a specific particularity with differentiated connotations. I believe that there could be many variants and positions, and the sole fact that a person decides to describe themself in a certain way makes the term valid. In no way do I believe that the self-description of a person of African descent or Afro-Cuban is copying the African-(US) -American pattern, or anything of that manner. Each is entitled to be named as they desire. Identity exists so that people can exercise it in their favor.
Color Absent from Cuban Schools
Another of the recurrent questions is the posing of the racial question as if it were only of interest to black people and mestizos. White supremacy has not only pushed blacks to the periphery, but also those issues that could interest them. The statement “I don’t have anything to do with that, I don’t feel racism” alerts us that there are those who do not recognize that this is a concern for everyone, given that in the established relations of subordination there are those who hold the power and those who do not, generating inequities that are expressed in very diverse forms.
The following anecdote illustrates the situation: recently, during the presentation of a compilation of works on negritude by Nicolas Guillen, one person on a panel suggested that a copy of the book be given to every black child in the country, because (supposedly) it was written for them by our national poet. Beyond my thoughts on this matter, it is important to highlight how still - in the current Cuban discussion of race - people continue to think of black issues, race matters and racial discrimination as a “black problem.”
The above-mentioned is very subtle and sophisticated evidence of this. Fortunately, before the conclusion of the activity, someone on the same panel highlighted that such a volume should be provided to every Cuban young person, regardless of their race, because the racial question in Cuba is a problem for everyone. In this same vein, the recurring phrase “we’re all same” no longer convinces many, because in reality, this supposed equality has its paradigm in whiteness. Whenever we speak of a human being, we universally think of someone who is white; this explains the blindness that many have when it comes to skillfully detecting when racist prejudice is being used to evaluate human behavior.
As professor and intellectual Esteban Morales put quite clearly, in Cuba color is not mentioned in our primary schools, nor is there a scientific discussion of the theme; therefore, people are by default educated to be white, once again supremacy is white. This is, for us, evidence of institutionalized racism by omission.
Neo-Racism Cuban Style
The previous aspects are expressions of racial prejudice, even when some are so sophisticated that they end up constituting a type of “neo-racism Cuban style,” with it being masked, mutated and transmuted due to the lack of open and recalcitrant discriminatory manifestations, like those expressed in some other countries (against indigenous women, for example). Nevertheless, there still remain certain biologically- oriented theories, recently confirmed by me and having a marked retrograde character; these reproduce old hypotheses now rejected by the natural sciences for quite some time, if not centuries.
The existence of such arguments (which range from explanations of why blacks are not or cannot be excellent dancers in Cuba’s classical ballet to reasons why few are not part of our national aquatic sports team) also alert us of the permanency of a racism that we had come to believe had been eradicated from our social mind set.
Careful! Such asseverations can be very harmful when they are offered by scientific assessments, and we now know the damage that can be done by science (or rather pseudo-science) in the establishment of discrimination between human beings. In this same manner, if we analyze the currently existing stereotype about the hyper-sexuality of women of African descent, sustained in the belief that black people are closer to primates and therefore to nature, it is as if they were more primitive, more savage and less educable.
This, together with the opinions of biological theorists, can lead us to understand how racist and sexist prejudices can be interrelated and result in arguments that are fully discriminatory and very difficult to dismantle or deconstruct.
*Excerpt from an Inter Press Service News Agency (IPS) article by Sandra Alvarez Ramirez, a Cuban psychologist. Translation from Spanish to English by Havana Times.