Race in Cuba: The Root Interviews Carlos Moore

When it comes to race, Cuba is far from the utopia that black intellectuals like to think it is. As part of The Root's series exploring the island's color complex, Achy Obejas interviews Carlos Moore, an Afro-Cuban intellectual who says that Cuba's gotten a pass on race for far too long.

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CM: Although racism does create its own sustaining ideologies (Nazism, apartheid, racial democracy, etc.), it is not an ideological phenomenon per se. I believe racism to be something much more dangerous and intractable than an ideology -- for example, a historically derived, over-arching consciousness that is materially and psychologically beneficial to a particular racial segment of humankind. If racism weren't concretely beneficial to that segment, it certainly wouldn't persist in the world. Therefore, my take on race is that racism exists on at least three different and autonomous but interdependent dimensions that must be confronted simultaneously: the political, economic and judicial structures of power; the day-to-day etiquette of interpersonal relations; the social imaginary where Otherness is mythologized and re-signified through cultural attitudes and patterns, value systems and aesthetic norms.

All three dimensions act conjointly in exclusive detriment of the historically inferiorized, conquered racial segment. Hence, addressing racism implies a determination to attack it frontally in all three dimensions. That was never attempted in Cuba either before or after 1959.

TR: What, if anything, makes Cuba unique when it comes to matters of race?

CM: Absolutely nothing! In matters of race, Cuba is no different from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Brazil or any other of the so-called "Latin" American countries. The whole premise based on what is termed "mulatto culture" or "mestizo race" relies on strictly racist assumptions. Everywhere in this hemisphere, you will find a tiny, white elite of wealth monopolizing power and resources and keeping the rest of society at bay. And despite the many social advantages brought about by the Revolution, Socialist Cuba is no exception. The idea of a "Cuban exceptionalism" based on so-called race-mixing, is a self-indulgent racial myth in itself!

Achy Obejas is an author whose most recent book is Ruins, a novel about Cuba in the Special Period. She was born in Cuba and came to the United States by boat in 1963. Since then she has returned to Cuba innumerable times. She writes about Cuba for The Root and other U.S.-based publications.

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