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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So for decades these ideological bulldogs intimidated most people. But a time comes when people stop fearing a bulldog; that happened when the Soviet empire tumbled. On the other hand, over the years African Americans in general have gained greater knowledge about the world beyond U.S. borders, and the complexities of countries in so-called ‘Latin’ America. Thousands of African Americans have visited Cuba over the past 50 years. They have seen the reality and heard it, too, from the mouths of black Cubans. Many have even been discriminated there for being black and suffered humiliation. Sooner or later, the cumulative impact of all that would have produced a principled statement such as the one that was issued.

TR: But surely the Cuban Revolution has moved the issue of race forward, hasn’t it? Is there any question that there have been achievements as far as race, representation, race relations and racial equality in Cuba since 1959?

CM: My perspective on race relations is perhaps quite different from that of most people in that I do not see race as being primarily a question of interpersonal relations. I see it as being, fundamentally, a question of relations of power over the distribution of resources along racial lines. And by race, I mean phenotype, not biology. Consequently, I do not analyze racial matters in terms of ”betterment,” ”achievement,” ”advancement” or ”representation.” I view maters of race in terms of the power to distribute or deny resources.

That is why I do not see socialist Cuba as ”less” or ”more” racist than pre-1959 Cuba. What has shifted is the consciousness that now exist among blacks of their overall inferior position in society, despite the Revolution. No doubt because of the socioeconomic transformations brought about by the socialist reforms, blacks as a whole enjoy greater educational access today. Yet, they remain crushingly at the bottom, whereas whites continue crushingly at the top. Such is the equation of power that — before and after the Revolution — prevails in Cuba.

TR: What does Cuba need to do now to address racism?

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.

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