Being Black in Cuba / Iván García
Being Black in Cuba / Iván García
Iván García, Translator: Unstated
A white-skinned off-duty law enforcement officer, having a drink,
justifies the Cuban police force's racist archetype that turns a black
or mixed-raced person into a presumed criminal with the old refrain he
learned from his mother, "All blacks are not thieves but all thieves are
The guy is not a bad person. He's a good father, a competent policeman,
and doesn't consider himself a racist. But it was what he learned in his
childhood. Racial prejudice abounds in Cuban families. Then moves into
the whole society.
The Havana agent's attitude informs the National Revolutionary Police in
the days of operations and raids: of 10 citizens whom they stop in the
street and ask for identification, eight are black. It is a problem of
A couple of years, a friend who worked in a foreign firm, told me that
he was thinking of selling bleaching creams for the skin. I didn't
believe him. According to market research, he said, the cream would have
wide acceptance among Cubans.
As I'd never seen them for sale in hard currency stores, I thought it
was a hoax. In the book Afro-Cubans, historian and anthropologist Maria
I. Faguagua related that in 2009 a Spanish company considered this
Several respondents, who work providing hair treatments for black women,
said that these creams would sell like hotcakes. "You can think what you
want. But I've spent 20 years straightening hair and I say that many
blacks and mestizos would give anything for light skin and becoming
white," said a Havana hairdresser.
Certainly black pride in Cuba is not at its best. What blacks have gone
through is a lot. It's always good to look at history.
Since 1886, when slavery was officially abolished, blacks were left at a
distinct disadvantage compared to whites. They had no property. No
money. Or ancestry. And much less social recognition.
Years later, during the Republic, their decisive contribution to the
struggle for independence was barely recognized. Despite these efforts,
they could only get jobs as dock workers, cane cutters, or in construction.
Many black families did not quietly accept the fate of living as lower
class. And some were able to climb the steep and difficult social ladder.
But they were the few. Then, as we know, Fidel Castro arrived. He
decided to solve the racial differences by decrees and camps where
blacks and whites mixed and became "partners".
At the beginning it wasn't bad. But racial prejudice in Cuba was more
subtle. It was — and is — deeply entrenched in the minds of the
majority. And that can not be legislated. If they really wanted to break
down barriers, they needed systematic educational work over the long
term, and inclusion of blacks and mulattos in power structures.
That was more difficult. It was one thing that the personal bodyguards
or soldiers sent to the civil war in Angola were the color of oil, and
another, for them to form a part of the status quo.
Although after 1959 blacks won spaces, and they shared with whites the
carnivals, ball games, attendance at the best schools and college, then,
despite all their talent, they were stuck in the mediocre group of
professionals who retire without being able to scale the social or
From time to time a black person shows up at the higher levels of the
government or the Party. It's a question of image. But blacks continue
to be on the lowest rung of society.
They are, of course, the majority in prisons and in sports. Except for
chess and swimming: according to old racist concepts in these areas
brown people are failures.
They're also good for playing musical instruments. Or singing boleros,
sones, salsa, rap and reggaeton.
But when they are seeking access to Alicia Alonso's ballet company, they
are regarded with suspicion. Almost apologizing, an old teacher told me:
"I have nothing against blacks, but for the ballet they have anatomy
problems." (He ignored the victories in the London Ballet of Carlos
Acosta, a Cuban black dancer.)
If they are active in music and sports, they are also known for getting
into prostitution. Looking for something different, or because of the
myth that they are good in bed, many Europeans travel to Cuba to be
sexually satiated with dark skin. Cheap pleasure.
But while the prostitutes offer themselves in the clubs and nightspots
of Havana for $20, some black men still look for their future in the
distance, especially in Europe.
Thus, the worst of the worst in Cuba today is a woman who is both black
and dissident. Ask community activist Sonia Garro. A nursing graduate
with stellar grades, she personally suffers racism from some of the
One afternoon, proud to be the first professional a family whose members
had engaged in lower paid occupations, with her best dress and pair of
shoes, she went to the Astral theater to pick up her diploma. At the
time of taking the group photo, a provincial leader asked her to leave:
"Those of your color are not good in the pictures."
Years later, Sonia told me that her anger was such that she left without
picking up her diploma. Soon, she became a dissident.
A few days before the Pope's arrival on the island in March, the
anti-riot forces of the political police entered her home as if she were
a terrorist. Using rubber bullets and excessive violence, they charged
with Sonia and her husband, Ramon Alejandro Muñoz, also an opponent.
They await the legal process in severe prisons. She in a women's prison,
he in a punishment cell at Combinado del Este prison because he refuses
to wear the prison uniform.
Blacks in Cuba seek their destiny in the few options to succeed that
they have. Their failures are triple the number of successes. A high
percentage live poorly and eat worse. Patience has been drying up. And
they have decided to stop being prisoners of their race. Like Sonia Garro.