Race in Cuba: The Politics of Power and Hypocrisy
When it comes to race, Cuba is far from a utopia. Last year a group of black Americans, including Cornel West, wrote an open letter to Cuba decrying racism there. As part of The Root's series exploring the island's color complex, one of Cuba's esteemed social scientists writes about the aftermath of that letter.
The exclusion of blacks from the halls of power and from the most advantageous economic sectors can be explained in part by the historical consequences of slavery and the inequalities of the black and mulatto population to whites in the first years of our socialist project, but it is no longer justifiable.
Other things -- such as the near total absence of textbooks at all levels of learning about the history and culture of Africa and of blacks in Cuba, continued emphasis of European aesthetic values, the degrading representation of black and mulatto women in touristic propaganda and police harassment -- continue to batter the self-esteem of the country's population of color.
A growing number of scholars have engaged with these questions for years, going against the tide of partisan opinions trying to put off discussion and analysis of the issue. The hip-hop movement has opened a space in which to confront matters of interest to youth, particularly black and mulatto youth. The inclusion of women in a decidedly masculine endeavor such as rap is particularly notable. Young people of color struggle against racial discrimination and patriarchal oppression. They're interested in family, the vindication of beauty, the relationship between the sexes, violence, prostitution, drugs, the double morality/hypocrisy, corruption, racism, police harassment, conformity and the defense of diversity, including homosexuality/lesbianism.
There's still much to do. Although the answer lies in education and a strong involvement in cultural work, it's still a long ways off. The hegemonic sectors of our society that have historically benefited from this inequality will not give up their privilege after a mere bout of conscience. It will be necessary to seek the help of the courts. If we don't keep in mind that racism is linked to the exercise of power, it will continue to play out as a consequence of its obvious economic, social and cultural benefits to the hegemonic sectors.
Inés María Martiatu Terry is a Cuban writer and cultural critic whose many books include Over the Waves and Other Stories, published in the United States. She has received various awards, including the Ministry of Culture's distinction for national culture.