reprinted with permission
For nearly six years Professor Esteban Morales and I have enjoyed a very positive relationship. He has been a valuable source to me for most things CUBA, particularly on the issue of race and social issues.
This article was penned in late June, just days before the July 11th uprising. His article is a perspective and I encourage you to gain many viewpoints so you can better understand the situation.
Author: Esteban Morales.
Although it still moves many prejudices, misunderstandings and challenges, there is no choice but to attend to the color of the skin. Above all, in its consideration within the national media and statistics.
Cuban society is a multiracial society, or rather, multicolored, mestizo. And that reality has to be recorded statistically. Not handling the Census as a matter, simply numerical, but cultural demographic.
It’s about color being a legacy of Slavery. That it is not possible to ignore, because this mark from its origins to the current Cuban society.
When the Spanish arrived in Cuba in 1492, they did so with white credentials and stayed that way. Those who came of their own volition, did so in search of a fortune, which they not infrequently found.
But Spain is not White. Colonized by the Arabs, for 800 years, it becomes impossible to consider it as such. Even when the Spanish does not assume that identity.
Then, the colonizers of our Archipelago, were not white. Being white was not their power, but having arrived with the cross and with the sword.
They arrived in a territory of indigenous people, of low culture and only used them to find gold. They exploited them mercilessly and their population mass, did not last long, although still in Cuba, we have representatives of that original population.
Chinese also came, brought in, through a system of contracts, which made them slaves. The so-called culíes, which since then added their beauty to the population of the island, integrating our nationality. Those three large groups were the ones that formed the Cuban population. Then others joined, Antilleans, although not in the magnitude of the first, merging also with our population.
Although the Spanish Crown, put rules for the care of the indigenous population; in any case, the ambition of the colonizers, together with the Regime of the Encomiendas and slavery, reduced that population to its minimum expression.
In little more than 100 years the so-called Tainos, Siboneyes and guanahatebeyes, almost disappeared, because they were not of an advanced culture, as if it happened for the rest of America. Cultures, Aztecs, Mayans, Toltecs, etc. Those that did, culturally, had practically nothing to envy of the European cultures of their time.
But the indigenous population existing in the Cuban Archipelago, lacked that strength, which gives belonging to a higher culture.
Along with the Spaniards, came the first blacks. Not from Africa, but directly from Spain. These blacks were called “Ladinos”, they were slaves in Spain, they knew how to speak the language and they had a certain culture, acquired in the labor of servitude, for which, they also arrived in Cuba. But they did so in small numbers.
The vast majority of blacks who arrived in Cuba, en masse, did so later, as a result of the slave trade. And massively, after the Haitian Revolution of 1791.Se settled in the Eastern End of The Island. Having a great cultural impact, as they were accompanied by their French masters. Thus I arrived in Cuba, the French contradanza and the so-called French Tomb. All of which, we know as antecedents of our national dances, the Danzón.
Through the eastern region, the Antillean groups entered, to participate in sugar production, hence the mixture that characterizes that region, which covers up to the current province of Camagüey, where we find many descendants of French (Haitians), or English (Jamaicans) and other Antillean groups. This made the situation of racial discrimination in the above-mentioned regions more complicated.
However, they did not lead to the formation of minorities, as in the United States, but merged with the Cuban population, keeping their English and French surnames.
Then, the blacks were brought as slaves to Cuba, for the work of the constructions first and the work of the sugar production later, within an already organized colonial regime. To say black in Cuba, was to say slave.
These slaves, practically, since the sixteenth century, could buy their freedom.
As the Spaniards arrived, men alone. Immediately, they began to mix with the Indies and blacks, thus initiating the miscegenation of the island. And within a complex miscegenation, because it was made up of free or slave people, mestizo or black. Not so the White Spaniards, who never suffered the condition of slavery.
Unlike the blacks who were brought into the territory of the Thirteen Colonies of North America, what later was the United States of America; the arrived, also brought from Africa as slaves to the mentioned territory, these could not speak their languages, but only English, they could not practice their religions, nor their cultures. They were not allowed by the colonizers. In this sense, the slave regime from England was tougher, with an almost absolute separation between blacks and whites. Which is what has ended up characterizing American society.
The blacks brought to Cuba, also from Africa, the Spanish colonization, were allowed to speak their languages, worship their gods and practice their cultures.
It was that, for historical and also cultural reasons, the Spaniards were more likely to coexist with the cultural practices of slaves in Cuba and with different colors.
Unlike in North America, in Cuba, the Spanish lived better with differences in color. To which also contributed the differences that introduced in the slavery of the negro, the existence of a domestic slavery and another of plantation.
In Cuba this did not take place, but in the American colonization, came a type of colonizer, who not having money to bear the expenses of his transfer to Anerica, requested a loan, which forced him to work, practically as a slave or servant. Once the loan debt was paid off, he received a piece of land, becoming a poor farmer. Except for the existence of some slaves, who did not live in the barracks and cultivated a small piece of land, to supply the house of the master, in Cuba there were never serfs as such.
In the plantation, the negro had to work from sun to sun, under the whip of the Foreman or Mayoral; while, in domestic work, their tasks were deployed in the house of the slaveholder, intertwined with the activities of service to the family. There he could be a coach, cook, seamstress, washed and ironed, set the table, arranged the master’s clothes and made a concoction, when he got sick, etc. Performing tasks, which practically prepared him to make a trade, in case one day he managed to obtain his freedom, bought or manumitido.
The contact with the family instructed them and endowed them with a certain culture, which differentiated it from the slave of the plantation. Who was not allowed to work more than in the cutting of cane, or the production of sugar.
The negro, wherever he was, did not cease to be a slave, and the trap, in the face of the slightest disobedience, was upon him, like the Sword of Damocles. For the white master, did not allow them those freedoms, which could instill in him some culture of independence, which was very much monitored. But, in domestic work, in fact, the advantages, they had them and not a few took advantage of them very well.
For example, the girl in the house, took a liking to the nice, docile negrito, and could even teach him to read and write. In the domestic context, the skilled, respectful, docile negro intimated with the father of the house and came to know him even certain secrets, such as his walks with the black, from which, not infrequently, “bastard” children emerged within the family.
The black, knowledgeable of herbs, prepared a concoction that healed a pain to the master. And within that intimacy, he was practically beginning to see him as part of the family. He gave him tasks, shared certain secrets with his slave and so, sometimes, this, already old, earned the manumission, or the letter of freedom.
Inside the house of the master, living together as a domestic slave, the negro achieved advantages, which not infrequently, he took advantage of and that made him advance in social life, while maintaining his condition as a slave.
It is that domestic slavery generated a certain culture and within it, a level of permissibility, which the negro could take advantage of. This allowed him to enter society, even with all the disadvantages of a slave society.
Meanwhile, in the United States, after the Civil War, slavery was abolished in the north, but it had to continue to struggle with it in the south. Blacks escaped to the North, where they became free, but not infrequently, they left behind relatives who remained slaves in the South.
In Cuba, no, slavery was a homogeneous system throughout the island. So, when the laws that attenuated it began to appear, such as the so-called Law of Free Wombs, until its official abolition in 1886, this had a national effect.
Of course, slavery began to disappear, from a long process, in which Spain abolished it, as a first step, giving freedom to blacks who had fought, on both sides, during the First War of Independence (1868/1878) until finally, it was abolished in a general way in 1886.
However, in America, slavery took color. And with it came racism and racial discrimination, which were not born with capitalism, but which hit it very well, as an instrument of power and exploitation.
Therefore, slavery disappeared, but the racism and discrimination that she engendered for more than 400 years remained intertwined within the structure of Cuban society. And so, from the mid-nineteenth century, a society began to emerge, with a racist, mestizo culture and white hegemony. Therefore, racism, racial discrimination and white hegemonism, within our mestizo society, have not yet been eliminated, although they have been attenuated.
Then, The Revolution that triumphed in 1959, met with a society, in which, there is a well-defined structuring. The so-called whites have the power, they always had it; the mestizos are, more or less, in an intermediate position, a few had access to power; blacks are almost always in the subsoil of society. This is the result of a distribution of wealth, which colonialism inaugurated and Cuban dependent capitalism was responsible for solidifying.
It is that, in Cuba, poverty was also massively white, but wealth was never black, and almost never mestizo.
After the Cro. Fidel, almost since the triumph of the Revolution, began treating him in a systematic way; racism, racial discrimination and white racial hegemony have not disappeared.
The social policy that the revolution inaugurated since 1959, has always had a deeply humanist character, but, from the beginning, it focused only on poverty, not differentiating among the poor, treating as the only poverty, which was never homogeneous, without making differentiation within it, according to the color of the skin.
Would it have been possible, so early on, to have considered poverty, taking into account its differences and levels, according to the colour of the skin?
I think not. I believe that this would have greatly complicated the fight that was beginning then, against racism and racial discrimination. I believe that if Cuban society was not prepared, as was evident, to assimilate Fidel’s speech against racism; much less so would have been if, in addition, the existing differences in poverty levels according to the colour of the skin had been introduced. I think that would have meant introducing some level of affirmative action, for which whites, mestizos and not even the blacks themselves, were prepared.
That is why, I believe, social policy, in Fidel’s speeches, began by demanding employment for blacks; meanwhile, everything else: health, education, culture and sports and social security, fell under their own weight and equally for all. When there was a distribution for everyone equally, blacks and mestizos, I touch them, which, in general, had never touched them. Because blacks, and to some extent mestizos, had never enjoyed free, quality education, much less blacks, health care. Sport was the cons. And so, a distribution of national wealth began to occur, which the nation had never known. And, within which, blacks and mestizos, almost never, had touched almost nothing. That is why, although the color of the skin was not taken into account, in any case, blacks and mestizos, benefited, as never before in the history of the Nation. That is why blacks and mestizos did not find it difficult to understand that the revolution was their revolution and that Fidel had cared and fought for their well-being.
This is one of the aspects that, in the last 40 years, we have managed to refine. Without yet reaching, as such, the so-called Affirmative Action. Forms of the latter have been gradually appearing in Cuba, but almost indirectly. And we are still in that perfecting of the path begun. What is beginning to take shape, through a concern and an occupation of the political leadership that no one is helpless.
Having shown that race does not exist, that it is a social invention. But that, nevertheless, the color yes, and that, in our country, after 500 years[M1] of colonialism, the color of the skin, continues to behave as a variable of social differentiation. Which we have set out to fight against.
What it tells us, because, since the beginning of the Republic, in Cuba, there were black and mestizo societies. It is true that they acted within a racist and discriminatory context, which made them respond to it. But they also functioned as fraternal societies, which helped the black and mestizo membership to train themselves, on the basis of free courses for their young people, social and cultural activities, which in general, helped this population to face the problems of inequality. Sometimes they made it easier to get a job and in general, they helped blacks and mestizos to have a certain recognized social presence.
However, at the Triumph of the Revolution, these societies began to disappear, as a result of the consideration that they were not necessary, because the revolution assumed the defense of blacks and mestizos and that they could contribute more to the racial division within Cuban society
However, paradoxically, at the same time, the Spanish Societies, considered as white, were maintained, which in Cuba remain until today. The question remains unanswered: Why did blacks disappear and are they, coincidentally, white, right?
This is something that has brought controversy and unrest, although not only among blacks and mestizos. Today, it is even questioned whether the societies of blacks and mestizos, should not reappear. Today the subject tends to enter the debate again. Above all, because the problem of racism and racial discrimination has not yet been fully overcome.
But the blacks and mestizos, from the beginning, did not make any claim and everything stayed that way.
In Cuba, after 60 years of a radical Revolution, of deeply humanist essence and of an extraordinary struggle against poverty, injustice and inequality, to the very edges of egalitarianism; still, from the point of view of social position, access to certain resources and certain advantages in social life, it is not the same to be white, black or mestizo. This is not a burden, but responds to a structural dysfunctionality, which even Cuban society drags and is able to reproduce.
In particular, the so-called Special Period showed that the economic crisis had not affected all racial groups equally. Being blacks and mestizos the ones who suffered the most. Which became apparent.
Our Government also realized that the difficulties with racism, which surfaced with some force during the Special Period, were indicating that this was a problem that, having been considered as solved, really was not; or at least, it was not being solved, at the rate that many had imagined, but rather, racism, had been hidden, in the midst of the difficulties experienced during those years, in the mid-eighties and early nineties.
He had had, until then, a long period of general silence on the subject, which Fidel broke on several occasions, both inside and outside Cuba, but without achieving then, that the issue of race, definitively occupied the place that corresponds to him in the struggle for a better society in today’s Cuba.
I believe that, in this regard, we must start from the existence of inequalities, in order to achieve real equality. Unfortunately, inequality is what we find at every turn. Equality is the social project, not yet achieved by Cuban society as a whole.
Therefore, we must not assume mechanically that all Cubans are equal; because that was also used as a hypocritical slogan of republican Cuba.
All Cubans are not yet equal. We are before the law, but not socially. They are two very different phenomena. Equality before the law has been achieved. But achieving social equality is a much longer and more complex process. Equality before the law is not social equality. But only, perhaps, a step, to get to the latter.
Today, it is observed that there is a fairly clear awareness that against inequality we must continue to fight, persecuting it to those places where marginality still attacks members of our society and not only blacks and mestizos. So the work with the so-called Community projects gains unusual strength.
Being able to observe the Party and the government, extraordinarily occupied, mobilizing qualified human forces and resources, which are put in function of the solution of multiple material, spiritual and social problems, that the Cuban society still has to overcome.
This task of the Community Projects, are strongly intertwined with the Government Resolution, which serves as an instrument for the fight against racism and racial discrimination.
Fidel had already realized all this and began to take action. Guiding in-depth research, in several disadvantaged neighborhoods, on the situation of sectors, sometimes marginalized.
It was also, then, when the experience of the so-called Social Workers was carried out; the majority blacks and mestizos, which brought as a result, that many young people, who neither studied nor worked, (it is said that there were 80,000 in Havana) arrived at the Universities. Those that had been “bleached” during the Special Period.
Then, from the late eighties, we returned to the subject again. What I think, is the period we’re in now, at the height of 2021.
Previously, during the 20s and 30s, above all, the issue of race had had a presence in the written media, especially in the press of the time. Personalities such as Juan Gualberto Gómez, Arredondo, Guillen, Deschamps, Chailloux, Ortiz, Portuondo, and others had produced important texts on the subject. And he managed to keep it within the debate in the press of the time, including in the Navy Journal.
But that momentum was not maintained and by the triumph of the revolution, it had almost disappeared.
But, already from the 80s, many publications of books, articles, essays, documentaries, and research began to reappear in some universities. A cinema that frequently brought up the subject, the plastic, the theater and the literature as well. Discussion Groups and Community Projects emerged, which today address the issue of race and have endowed it with a growing presence within national culture and life. In fact, for years, the issue did not take on such an important place in the national debate.
Then, the meetings with the Cro began. Miguel Díaz Canel, who attends to the issue, before becoming president and continues to do so now, together with the Aponte Commission of the UNEAC, which replaced the Group, “Como agua para chocolate”, directed by Gisela Arandia. She was the initial promoter of the racial debate at UNEAC. Previously, the racial issue had been taken to the party and later located in the National Library, but it was finally in the UNEAC, where it found its definitive location. And now it’s unfolding. Through the work of the aforementioned Aponte Commission.
All this movement has concluded with the appearance of a Government Resolution, mentioned above, which proposes guidelines for the attention and treatment of the racial issue at the national level. With the presence, too, of all those groups interested in the subject. Aspects of participation, which still require development.
However, I believe that, although we have made progress, we are still far from giving the issue of race the impetus it requires. There are still many situations to be resolved.
Although our society is culturally mestizo, the presence of racism, racial discrimination and a certain white hegemonism are still felt in the following matters:
-Inequalities persist within the racial population structure, formed by whites, blacks and mestizos. Not as a burden, but as a phenomenon of social dysfunctionality, which even Cuban society is capable of reproducing.
-Differences in access to employment also persist. With privileges for the white population, in those most important and best paid: tourism, corporations, state offices, etc. Not so in political positions, especially within the party, the People’s Power and the Mass Organizations, where the participation of blacks and mestizos is becoming more present.
-Differences by color, in access to possibilities of higher studies, universities, master’s degrees, doctorates, etc.
-Racism, prejudice and discrimination, against the black and mestizo population, which tends not to manifest itself in an aggressive way, but which are still present.
-Marked presence of an insufficiency of interracial marriages. With a marked tendency to racial restraint among young people which is indicative that young people are getting rid of prejudices.
-Discrimination in the mass media, mainly in television, in which white faces have dominated, because only recently, black and mestizo faces have begun to appear. In response to a specific, recent complaint by Army General Raul Castro in the National Assembly.
Our written press barely reflects the problems of the racial issue. There is no systematic treatment in this regard. Nor promotion of writers who deal with the subject. There is almost never an article in our press that addresses the issue.
-Our Political and Mass Organizations do not debate the issue of race. They do not promote their discussion, nor do they consider it in their work agendas.
-Discrimination in classical ballet.
-Jokes and racist expressions, abound, in the activities of cabarets.
-Only recently, the Teaching of History has begun to reflect the place of blacks and mestizos in the formation of our homeland history. And teachers are preparing to address it.
– Until very recently, the bibliography used, with honourable, well-known exceptions, did not reflect the role of the black and mestizo population in the construction of our nation. A strong hard bibliographic work is now being done by the Ministries of Education, aimed at resolving this inadequacy of vital consideration for the teaching of history.
-There is no Social History of the Negro or of the black woman, produced in Cuba.
-Even dealing with the issue of race, at any level and in any social space, can generate some discontent, prejudice and discomfort.
Only recently has our national assembly begun to present a structure that almost faithfully reflects the racial composition of Cuban society.
-For those who deal with the issue in a systematic way, their debates are not disclosed, always remaining in the frameworks of interested groups and people.
-In the Cuban school there is no mention of color, leaving personal spontaneity to behave in the face of the problem.
-In our universities, the issue of race is hardly studied. Nor is it included in the teaching curricula.
-Our academic research hardly refers to the issue of race sufficiently and it is practically absent from the student scientific work.
-Only recently, it begins to be observed, that an effort is made to attend to the racial composition of work groups, activities, or situations, in which the negro and the mestizo must be represented. This is seen with special emphasis on television.
In reality, our statistics, social, economic and political, are colourless. Throwing into the trash can centuries of national history. Ignoring appreciating where the problems are.
-Our Economic Statistics do not allow to cross color, with variables of jobs, housing, wages, income, etc. This prevents a thorough investigation of how the standard of living of different racial groups is advancing. Especially for those who were previously disadvantaged.
We believe that as long as the issue of race is not dealt with with systematicity and coherence, at an integral level and is reliably reflected in our statistics and in our media, we cannot hope that socially, the country will make progress on the issue.
It’s that our inherited culture is racist; that is, the practice of racism is cultural, instinctive, responding mainly, but not only, to inherited mechanisms, which work, not infrequently, unconsciously.
Therefore, until the subject enters education, is strongly socially debated, is part of the systematic work of the media and is considered statistically, we cannot aspire to pass it on to culture, or advance in it, banishing it from the forms of habitual behavior of citizens in our country.
It is that the absence of attention, almost generalized, for a long time, on the racial issue, has very negative consequences for its knowledge, understanding and consideration at the social level, as something that harms the Cuban nation. In the case of a very serious problem to overcome, if we want our society and its culture to advance in an integral way, guaranteeing the success of the social project of the revolution.
June 30, 2021.