Not All in Cuba Are Proud of Being Black / Iván García

A drunk, off duty, enforcement agent, white, justified the racist Cuban police archetype that turns a black or mestizo into a presumed delinquent with an old refrain learned from his mother: “Not all blacks are thieves, but all thieves are black.”

The guy is not a bad person. He is a good father, a high caliber criminologist, and he does not consider himself racist. But it was what he learned in his childhood. Racial prejudices abound within Cuban families. Then they are carried into to real life.

The Havana agent’s attitude becomes that of the National Revolutionary Police on operation and raid days: of every 10 citizens that they stop on public thoroughfares, 8 are black. It is a mentality problem.

A couple of years ago, a friend who worked in a foreign firm told me that he was considering buying skin whitening creams. I did not believe him. “According to a market study, the cream would have great acceptance among Cubans,” he told me.

As I never saw them for sale in the foreign currency stores, I thought I had heard a joke of bad taste. In the book Afrocubans, the historian and anthropologist Maria Ileana Faguagua says that in 2009 a Spanish firm studied that possibility.

Several consulted persons, who are dedicated to the treatment of hair for women of the black race, said that those creams would sell like hotcakes. “One can think what one likes. But I have spent 20 years straightening ’kinks,’ and I’m telling you that many black and mixed women would give anything to lighten their skin and become white,” said a white Havana hairdresser.

Certainly, black pride on the island is not at its best moment. What has happened to black people has not been slight. It is always good to review history.

And it is that since 1886, when slavery was officially abolished in Cuba, blacks were left at a clear disadvantage with respect to whites. They had no property. No money. No lineage. And much less social recognition.

Years later in the Republic, their decisive support in the fight for independence was barely taken into account. In spite of that support, they only got work as stevedores, cane cutters or construction workers.

Many black families did not tranquilly accept their fate to live at the bottom. And some managed to climb the steep and difficult social ladder.

But they were few. Then, as is known, Fidel Castro came to power. And he decided to resolve racial differences by means of decrees and encampments where blacks and whites were mixed and would become “comrades.”

At first it was not bad. But racial prejudices in Cuba were very subtle. They were — and are — very deeply rooted in the minds of the majority. And that cannot be legislated. If you really try to demolish barriers, you need a systematic educational effort, in the long run, and to include blacks and mulattoes in the power structure.

That was already most difficult. One thing was that the personal bodyguards or soldiers sent to the Angolan civil war were the color of petroleum, and another, that they formed part of the status quo.

Although after 1959 blacks gained spaces, and shared carnivals, ball games, scholarships to study at the high schools in the countryside and university studies with whites, later no matter how much talent they had, they remained shackled within the mediocre professional group that retires without having been able to climb socially or politically.

From time to time a black man lands himself a high ranking government or party job. A matter of image. But blacks continue on the lowest social rung.

Of course, they are mostly in jail and on sports fields. With the exception of chess or swimming: according to old racist concepts, blacks are a failure in those disciplines.

Similarly, the dark skinned are good for playing musical instruments beyond the drums. Or singing boleros, Cuban folk songs, salsa, rap and reggaeton.

Now if they aspire to join the company of Alicia Alonso, they are looked at with suspicion. Almost with sadness, an old teacher told me: “I have nothing against blacks, but their anatomy causes them many problems in classical ballet.” She overlooked the triumphs of Carlos Acosta, a black Cuban ballet dancer in the London Ballet.

If in music and sports black usually have the one, also they have known how to get a slice of prostitution. Looking for something different or because of the myth that they are good in bed, many Europeans travel to Cuba to satiate themselves sexually with those of dark skin. Cheap pleasure.

But while the prostitutes are offered in clubs and night zones of Havana for 20 dollars,some black men keep seeing their future in the distance, above all in Europe.

The worst of the worst in Cuba today is to be a black, dissident woman. Ask community activist Sonia Garro. Graduated in nursing with brilliant grades, she suffered the racism in her own flesh from some creole mandarins.

One afternoon, proud of being the first professional in a family whose members had been dedicated to the worst paying jobs, with her best dress and pair of shoes, she went to the Astral theater to get her diploma. When it came time for the group photo, a provincial director asked her to move away: “Those of your color don’t turn out well in photos.”

Years later, Sonia told me that her anger was such that she left without getting her diploma. In a short time, she became a dissident.

Some days before the arrival of the Pope on the island, last March, forces of the political riot police entered her house as if they were terrorists. Using rubber bullets and excessive violence they charged Sonia and her husband, Ramon Alejandro Munoz, also an opponent. They awaited proceedings in harsh prisons. She was in a women’s jail, he in a punishment cell in the Combinado del Este because he refused to put on the prisoner’s uniform.

Blacks in Cuba cultivate their destiny with the few opportunities they have to triumph. Their failures are triple their successes. A high percentage live badly and eat worse. Their patience is exhausted. And they have decided to leave behind being culprits of their race. Like Sonia Garro.

Ivan Garcia

Photo: President of Citizens for Racial Integration, Juan Antonio Madrazo (on foot in the center, with pink shirt) with relatives, friends and members of the Mystery Company of Voodoo, during a celebration of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, last March. They are all proud of belonging to the black race. The woman on foot on the left, with the pink dress and blue handkerchief, is Teresa Luna, Madrazo’s mother, who has received threats from State Security, according to what Leonardo Calvo has denounced.

Translated by: mlk

May 27 2012