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Race as a Challenge to Cuba’s Educational System

Race as a Challenge to Cuba’s Educational System
October 3, 2013
By Esteban Morales*

HAVANA TIMES — Before the start of Cuba’s 2013-14 school year, ministers
and officials from the country’s education ministries met to evaluate
the situation of the country’s learning institutions.

If you asked me, I would say that the Cuban revolution’s two greatest
achievements have been Cuba’s educational system and developed
scientific sector. Nothing accomplished to date outshines them in terms
of merit and results.

Unfortunately, none of the speeches delivered at the meeting or the
documents published by the Cuban press touched on an issue that I
consider of the utmost importance: the question of “color” in Cuba’s
education system.

Cuba’s is a multiracial society. This issue, however, is nowhere
addressed in the country’s study programs. This holds for junior, senior
secondary and higher education.

The issue isn’t only passed over in silence at the different classes and
lectures students attend; it is also alarmingly absent from our history
and other textbooks.

Our teachers and professors also tend to skirt issues related to the
histories of Africa, Asia and the Middle East, issues that are closely
linked to Cuba’s racial question.

The issue of race, to be sure, should not be regarded as an educational
concern exclusively. It should, rather, be taken on as something that
concerns the whole of society, which ought to work to educate students
and the people in general, in this area of crucial importance.

In Cuba, racial stereotypes, discrimination and racism are not
institutional – they are not the result of a policy that defends or
encourages these practices through an official, political structure.

That said, Cuba’s institutions, which ought to help us in our struggle
to turn Cuban society into a harmoniously multiracial or multicolor
community, are not yet doing as much as they should in this regard.

This stems, in part, from a lack of political will and an excess of
bureaucratic hurdles, coupled with inexplicable delays in the search for
solutions to this pressing problem that has such a profound impact on
the country’s efforts to ensure social equality.

In recent years, Cuba has begun to address this situation through
coordinated, collaborative efforts headed by the Cuban Writers and
Artists Association (UNEAC), aimed at meeting the country’s needs in
this area through broad-encompassing efforts.

The four fundamental institutions (the quadrangle of social forces) that
ought to be targeted by these efforts, in my view, are the following:
- School, understood as all levels of education and training.
- The mass media, understood as the press, radio, television, cinema and
all mechanisms used to divulge and disseminate information.
- The national statistics system, whose mechanisms for collecting and
processing economic and social information are essencial for creating a
database that will allow us to address the racial issue at the national
level and at all levels of education and scientific research.

- Science, understood as a process that contributes to general research
and to laying the foundations of our society’s knowledge. The social
sciences and the humanities are particularly important for addressing
the racial issue in a comprehensive manner.

These four areas must be targeted if we want to make any headway in the
struggle against racial discrimination and racism. To design social
policies that can eradicate these problems, we need to move towards a
more systematic and scientific approach to the issues.

The multiple connections between these institutions, which constitute
the cultural context of the problem, could be said to be a fifth,
catalyzing element.

It will be impossible to truly raise people’s awareness about the
multiracial nature of our society, let alone eliminate racism, if
citizens aren’t considered an integral part of these processes and if we
do not target our educational system, for, whatever isn’t taught at
school does not generally become a part of our culture.

What we need is an anti-discriminatory and anti-racist culture that will
make our society more conscious of the stereotypes that persist among us
and thus more equal and just.

Our educational system faces yet another problem, one closely linked to
those described above.

The excessive emphasis on Western values that our education – and Cuban
culture in general – still relies on constitutes an obstacle in our
efforts to create a more open and broad-encompassing culture, expressing
itself in the lack of balance that exists among different racial groups
in Cuban society today.

This lends significance to the debate surrounding the persistent
hegemony of Cuba’s Hispanic heritage over all other traditions,
particularly African ones, which continue to endure the stereotypes,
marginalization and discrimination of a considerable part of the population.

Our students have relatively easy access to Spanish, Hispanic and
European literature and to much of the culture of these different parts
of the world. They know practically nothing, however, about Africa and
its contemporary culture, less about Asia and much less about the Middle
East.

After completing their junior and senior high school studies they go out
into the world with an incomplete, biased, racist and Manichean vision
of Cuban culture.

They also enter university with a blinkered and sterile idea of what
universal values are, that is to say, with a rather incomplete and
distorted image of Cuban culture and what its roots are.

What’s more, they complete their education without knowing the reasons
behind the racial diversity of their classes and the cultural
differences that occasionally manifest themselves among students, let
alone their individual behavior, religious beliefs and other values.

They leave school, in short, without having gotten to know each other
well, as the members of one community, and this quite simply because the
system has avoided offering them a rational explanation for the racial,
color and cultural differences that exist in the country.

It would seem, in fact, that we are educated, not to become Cubans, but
to become white people. Such an identity is dangerously less complex and
important for us, who ought to assimilate the intricacies of Cuban
culture – if we wish to become the citizens of a multiracial community,
that it is.

The most serious consequences of this is that those who are educated to
become racists continue to be racists thereafter, and those who are not
racist owe their condition to personal preoccupations, family
circumstances and different forms of social contact.

These trends, however, do not appear to be shaped by education, a space
in which the positive ought to be emphasized and stereotypes, prejudices
and discrimination flushed out.

Since stereotypes, discrimination and racism do not stem exclusively
from ignorance but also depend on the social and family circumstances
that shape an individual’s views, we are still not in a position to be
able to know if, by the time these individuals finish their studies,
they go out into the world as the responsible citizens we need.

That said, the new generations appear to be making progress in this
regard, to mingle more freely, with less reservations about issues of
race. The problem often arises, in fact, at the family level.

To prevent this, we cannot leave things in the hands of chance. We must
impel a process as a society, from the top and from the bottom, that is
to say, treat society, individuals and families as a whole.

Jose Marti expounded on countless ideas and social behaviors – which he
exemplified with his own life – that could extirpate racism from social
consciousness. It seems, however, that, in this battle, Jose Antonio
Saco, with his concept of a white Cuban community exclusive of blacks
and his ideal of purifying the race, continues to be winning.

The racial stereotypes we continue to endure, discrimination and racism,
more than problems inherited from Cuba’s colonial and republican times,
are phenomena that stem from the imperfections of our society, sustained
by the general imperfections of our educational system.
—–
(*) Visit Esteban Morales’s blog in Spanish.

Source: “Cuba’s Educational System and the Challenge Posed by Race” –
http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=99205

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