Racism a la Cuban(a)* / Iván García

When it comes time for sex, black Cuban women don’t feel discriminated against. Rather used. Roxana, 36, an architect, endures with Asian patience the sexual harassment from her white bosses, the gross come-ons, and the outright proposals to go to bed for 20 dollars.

What I have to put up with is incredible. From one boss who undresses me with his eyes and tries to blackmail me with a promotion or a trip abroad in exchange for sleeping with him, to the drunks on the street who offer me money,” says Roxana, while waiting for the bus going her way back home.

Racism in Cuba has several faces. And variations. More or less subtle. Even the forms are more explicit. But when it comes time to “play the tune” (fuck), skin color disappears as if by magic.

Especially if you are a woman. In a quick survey of 14 white men, ten said they wanted to sleep with black and mestizo women, “and if they are hookers, the better.” To the other four, mulatto women, “light skinned mulatto females without bad hair (kinky),” make them horny.

The story changes when it comes to marriage. Of the 14, only 2 would marry a black woman, and maybe 6 with a mulatto female if she were spectacular. “But I prefer to marry a white woman,” says one of those asked.

According to sociologist Edna Ramirez, racism on the island is an authentic Pandora’s box. “Cuban laws sanction discrimination by skin color, but in any society you can not legislate the mind and behavior of people. Always in Cuba there have been borders delimiting black and white. With the coming to power of Fidel Castro, the racial phenomenon apparently decreased due to the participation of blacks and mestizos in the social process that had just begun. Despite being a mestizo nation, where we have always coexisted without serious problems, for 20 years now there have been signs of racism toward blacks. On the part of whites and even mestizos, with higher standards of living or senior positions in companies and government institutions.”

You can see it from a bird’s eye view. Those who live the worst are blacks. Visit the filthy rooming houses of the slums or the huts reinforced with cardboard and aluminum that flourish in several Havana suburbs and you will see that almost all the tenants have dark skin

Of those swelling the island’s prisons, around 90% are black. The most violent and bloody crimes are usually committed by blacks. Youth gangs devoted to robbing occupied houses or assaulting people on the street, to steal their hard currency, an iPhone or a Messi T-shirt, generally are made up of blacks and mulattoes.

At the time of migration there are also differences. Sociologist Ramirez is conducting a comparative study of Cubans living abroad. “And, with few exceptions, blacks earn less and thus send less money to relatives in Cuba. It is an issue with an historical, educational and even political background.”
The government and cultural institutions accept that there is racial discrimination. Among the thorny issues in the history of Cuba in the twentieth century is the armed uprising of the Partido Independiente de Color in several cities in May 1912. 3,000 blacks were lynched, or died fighting. Among those who met the order to appease the rioters with fire and blood was Colonel Francisco José Martí, son of José Martí, the national hero. A hundred years after the events, it’s still an incorrect historiographical approach or it is preferably ignored.
Then, blacks and mulattoes rebelled to demand equality and also to be part of government and institutions. A century later, most key positions are still occupied by whites. To reverse the situation, the Sixth Congress of the Communist Party gave a coat of dark paint to the central committee. According to a Party member, there are guidelines to attract more blacks.
Even the census conducted on the island does not show the exact number of blacks and mestizos. “When it comes time to check the box for race, many mestizos declared themselves white in the census. It was optional, “says Daniel who worked on the development of the last Population and Housing Census in 2002.

The Census showed that 65% of Cubans are white, 24.9% mestizo and 10.1% blacks. But when you walk through the streets, will notice that the number of black Cubans and mulattoes are significantly higher than the official data.

Not even the dissidence is saved from racist attitudes. Sonia Garro, opponent since 2007, and who performs an outstanding community work with poor children in the neighborhood of Marianao where she lives and often along with other women go to the streets of Havana to protest, suffers it firsthand.
The night of her graduation as a nursing technician had to endure the humiliation of being separated from a group photo by a leader at the time to pick her diploma. “Don’t be upset, is that those of race don’t look good in the pictures,” he said. “Such was the shame I felt I didn’t even want to collect my diploma. I cried uncontrollably, “recalls Garro. Now, being a high caliber opponent, she still has to swallow bitter pills because of her colored skin.
“The officers of State Security themselves who utter racial slurs do not understand that a black woman can be a dissident. Even worst, is that there are groups within the dissidence where they ignore you and don’t pay any attention to your projects or actions, because of pure racism, says Sonia.

The race issue in Cuba is a real time bomb. The state looks the other way and attempts to minimize the issue. Meanwhile, white guys still crave black and mulatto women to lay with them in bed.

* Translator’s note: In Spanish the letter A after a noun indicates feminine, therefore cubana is a Cuban female.

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July 10 2011