By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Jul 29, 2011 (IPS) - "I'm not racist, but at night, if I see
three black men coming, I cross the street"; "I have a black friend, but
I'd never accept him as my brother-in-law"; "Who me, racist? Not at all!
But my daughter marrying a black man…" These are the kinds of comments
that can frequently be heard in Cuba, where discrimination of any kind
is prohibited by law.
Based on research at the Cuban Institute of Anthropology, the institute
head, Pablo Rodríguez, described this as the "I'm not racist, but..."
attitude, a common way of proclaiming that one is free of skin colour
prejudice, before expressing negative attitudes and rejection towards
"The Cuban revolution fostered rejection of discrimination, so people
react negatively when they are accused of being racist, because they are
aware that it's considered ugly and is frowned on," University of Havana
Professor Esteban Morales told IPS. He added that racism is not
necessarily aggressive or characterised by animosity, but is expressed
in ways that need to be confronted.
In the view of Roberto Zurbano, an essayist and cultural critic, the
problem is exacerbated by silence and by the lack of social debate.
There is nowhere to complain of and prosecute the many instances of
racial discrimination faced by black people "every three minutes, in the
streets, at workplaces or study centres, in the media, on neighbourhood
street corners, in family arguments and even in bed," he said.
"It is true that a lot of other issues also need to be discussed in
Cuban society, but none of them has undermined the credibility of its
social policies as much as this one, in the eyes of a black majority who
see the revolution as their victory, their opportunity for
self-fulfilment and their utopian horizon," Zurbano wrote in his essay
titled "Doce dificultades para enfrentar al (neo) racismo" (Twelve
Difficulties for Challenging (Neo) Racism).
Blacks and people of mixed-race heritage officially make up 34.9 percent
of Cuba's total population of 11.2 million, according to the latest
census, carried out in 2002. However, most Cuban academics estimate that
between 60 and 70 percent of the population is black or "mulatto".
Given the likelihood that the issue of racism will be on the agenda at
the next national conference of the ruling Communist Party of Cuba
(PCC), the Cofradía de la Negritud (CONEG), a civil society association
of black people aimed at raising awareness of racial discrimination, set
forth a total of 48 concrete proposals for action against discrimination
and racial inequality.
"This is our contribution, and we hope it will be taken into account. We
are assuming that the problem will almost certainly be discussed at the
PCC Conference, and we would like it to be taken up also by the National
Assembly (parliament)," Tato Quiñones, one of CONEG's founders, told IPS.
The CONEG document, which is being circulated by e-mail, expands on
demands and concerns raised at monthly meetings organised by CONEG,
where experts in different social disciplines hold discussions with
members of the public who are attending the meetings.
Several of the group's proposals have to do with education, and they
range from strengthening egalitarian and humanistic values, to
introducing studies for teaching staff on "the contribution of black
Africans and their descendants to economic progress in the country, and
to the forging of the Cuban nationality and identity."
Another proposal recommends "promoting appropriate coverage of racial
issues in the media, from a scientific and multidisciplinary point of
view that considers the different aspects of the racial question and
fosters constructive debate in existing - and future - scenarios where
opinions are shaped."
The CONEG document also proposes eradicating the taboo on discussing
race issues, and promoting a constructive approach to the question. In
addition, it advocates fomenting sales of beauty products and services
catering to darker-skinned people, as well as re-issuing new editions of
the works of the main exponents of Cuban anti-racist thought.
In the view of Morales, a national agenda on the problem must include
education as well as a social policy that recognises and pays special
attention to skin colour as a factor in social differentiation, and must
raise the debate on race issues at all levels of society.
"Racial issues should be discussed in the Cuban Workers' Federation, the
Women's Federation, the Committees for the Defence of the Revolution and
the mass media. On television, the question should be portrayed in soap
operas, in order to inform people and make them understand that
discrimination exists, because not everyone is willing to accept that it
is a problem," he said.
According to Morales, a leading researcher on race relations in Cuba,
there is no immediate solution to the phenomenon of racism, which he
says will require a great deal of work. "It isn't just about raising
living standards; it is more complex and more difficult, and involves a
change of mentality and the creation of anti-discrimination
consciousness," he said.
Morales said racism must be challenged in a comprehensive way throughout
society, without forgetting that expressions of racism occur even among
the black or mixed-race population. "Racial discrimination goes beyond
poverty, but a special development policy that takes skin colour into
account would go a long way toward solving it," he said.
Zurbano, CONEG and Morales all stressed the triple burden of prejudice
that weighs on darker-skinned Cuban women.
"Black women are the most vulnerable, because they are discriminated
against on the grounds of skin colour, poverty, and their sex. They are
also more exposed to machismo and domestic violence," Morales pointed out.
Civil society sources and some authorities interviewed by IPS gave the
impression that discrimination on the grounds of race, and legislative
bills supporting the freedom to choose one's gender identity and sexual
preferences, might well be on the agenda of the PCC Conference scheduled
for April 2012.
However, in his speech on Jul. 26, Revolution Day – commemorating the
1953 assault on the Moncada barracks, the first armed action of the
Cuban revolution – Vice President José Ramón Machado Ventura did not
mention these issues as being included on the agenda for the important