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 letter signed by 60 African Americans about the state of racism in Cuba, which ended decades of silence on Cuba's racial policies, was the first shot. Naturally, certain sectors of the foreign press, representing interests that had always been racist, tried to take advantage of the situation. A good number of intellectuals on the island responded immediately, denying the accusations and the results of studies on the subject that they themselves had published -- a response provoked by the fears of criticism from abroad.
The most important internal response came a month after the letter (from African Americans), on Thursday, Dec. 21, when Cuba TV broadcast A Cuban Battle Against Racism (the title plays off A Cuban Battle Against Demons, a seminal book on national identity by Fernando Ortíz, the island's first significant post-colonial critic) on "Mesa Redonda," one of the most coveted prime-time slots. Various specialists appeared on the show, and it was finally publicly recognized that prejudice, racism and racial discrimination persist in Cuba.
This contradicted statements that had hastily been made to deny the situation. And yet this happened on TV -- the mass medium par excellence in our country, and where the most pointed evidence of this very racism continues, especially in the lack of black actors in featured programming that frequently uses them only in police procedurals to play delinquents who practice Afro-Cuban religions.
What erroneous policies have allowed such an important issue to Cuban society to go without resolution in these 50 years of revolution? The triumphalism that decided the problem was solved in 1962; the imposition of a single Cuban subject that did not take differences into account; and the fear that a public discussion on the matter would produce schisms before enemy threats from abroad. These were the pretexts used to keep the dialogue and/or discussions about these and other important matters to society as a whole from ever taking place.