Let me add one personal observation on race relations in Havana and in Brooklyn, New York where I lived while working in SUNY-HSCB during most of the 1980s and most of the 1990s. 

My first visit to Cuba was in June 1994--it was the depth of the economic depression that was largely caused by the loss of trade and credit relations with the Soviet Bloc countries (COMECON).  I went to Cuba mostly because I was a distant admirer of the revolution which had taken the Cuban people much further than anywhere else in the so-called Third World. Also, a student in my comparative health policy in the medical school had visited Cuba and presented fascinating account of its health care system together with a slide show.  

I wrote an article published in the Journal of Community Health about my impression of the Cuban health care system at the time of that great crisis--comparable only to the Great Depression in the U.S. 

After my return, I was taking a Sunday afternoon walk in the Prospect Park and telling stories about my visit to a friend who was interested in Cuba.  As we walked on the trails of the park, I noticed how he and I habitually checked our surroundings for any sign of a mugger.  I was mugged myself (twice unsuccessfully as I fought the muggers) previously. Race relations were tense those days. My muggers were all African-American youth (I do not approve of their actions--but I do not wish to leave any impression that hold these kids SOCIALLY responsible for their actions--they were in my mind themselves victims of centuries of racism). 

It occurred to me that in Havana I NEVER had to worry for my safety. Havana has beautiful nights and walking there at late hours is something many foreigners and Cubans do. Streets are dark as Cubans (like most Third World countries with scarce resources) keep the lights out in public places as much as possible. 

It also occurred to me that there is much more inter-racial mix in Cuba than in any other country I have ever visited.  In fact, as any traveller can verify almost immediately, Cubans are mostly Mulatto (mixed races).  It is much harder to be a racist in Cuban not because it is outlawed but also because where would you draw the line among skin colors or facial features. 

My subsequent visits has shown to me that some older white Cubans still hold racist views. But the bulk of the young people and most Cubans are too educated and too mixed to be racists. 

Cuba's internationalist policies where millions of the population has gone to internationalist missions in Africa and elsewhere--many voluntarily belies the idea the Cubans are a racist nation.  300,000 Cubans fought South African Apartheid campaign of arming and supporting UNITA counter-revolutionary bloody war in Angola--many gave their lives.  How many Americans will fight for Africans freedom if asked? Cuban health care professionals have been helping Africans for 50 years.  These efforts could not be sustained in a racist society.

To me, the Cuban experience shows that to end racism we also need to end capitalism.



On Tue, May 17, 2011 at 6:57 AM, Larry Romsted <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

I really appreciate your detailed statement about racism in Cuba.  The problem at least initially appears to be as deep in Cuba as it was here in the US, as were and are the problems of sexism and homophobia.

I have a request.  A number of us on the list have been calling on Michael Balter to tone down the rhetoric.  Would you please do that as well?  Your anger at Michael is not subtle, e.g., "…folks like Mr Balter do a FoxNews style of exaggeration…" and "…[y]our statement falls into the same bag as the Tea Party folk and Donald Trump declaring Obama a non US Citizen…"

As a contributor to some of the invective myself, I am going to try.



From: S E Anderson <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To: Science for the People Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Date: Tue, 17 May 2011 08:06:00 -0400
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Subject: Clarification Regarding Lingering Racism In Cuba

SftP Folks,

My mention of lingering forms of racism inside of Cuba was not to equate their forms of racism with that of the US as Michael Balter has asserted:

I would say that Sam's description of the depths of racism in Cuba was quite shocking. I hope he is wrong, because it would be pretty depressing if after 50+ years of "socialism" Cuba was still as racist as the United States or even more so.

The quest to completely paint Cuba as one of the most horrible places on earth, folks like Mr Balter do a FoxNews style of exaggeration of your statement to mesh your views with their desired views.

It is not depressing when you contextualize the struggle against racism that has had a 500 year head start grounded in the material basis of society and embedded within ones language and worldview. 

1959 saw Cuba with a deep and virulent form of racism that was propped up by its semicolonial status with a de jure segregated US racist imperialist (redundancy for emphasis). Black and Brown Cubans were almost nonexistent as professionals of any type outside of sports and entertainment. Internalization of racist beliefs of inferiority was widespread (but not necessarily the norm among Black & Brown Cuban). Hence, the Revolution leaders- mainly white -had the initial misconception that by the mere eradication of the capitalist material basis for racism, racism would disappear and that the peasants and workingclass of Cuba would starting developing Cuba within a postracial context.

Their fundamental error was to misunderstand the profundity and complexity of racism as something that the quest for capital spawned yet has developed a life of its own within minds of people- independent of class and gender. Over the past 5 decades many Black Cubans loyal to the Socialist Revolution struggled inside and outside of the Communist Party to get antiracist policies and practices enacted. Much discussion and lots of essays written ensued to eventually convince the leadership that the question of racial inequity is a real problem even within a society that is trying to become a socialist one.

The first thing Cubans have slowly come to realize is that you cannot erase vestiges of 500 year-old racism/white supremacy in 50 years. You merely BEGIN the process of undoing racism by first recognizing that it still exist in the hearts and minds of many Cubans (marry a lighter skinned person to "improve the race"; the "good hair"/"bad hair" myth; the well dressed young Black-as-pimp-or-prostitute; the darker you are the less intelligence you have and the more physical you are...). They are getting it now that they do not live in a postracial society as was proclaimed back in the late 60s and 70s.

In the past 50 years, the Cuban have made greater strides towards the eradication of racism and white supremacy than what we have made inside the US. Look at its political leadership, its labor leadership, its medical and education leadership, its scientific leadership.... Then look at the paucity of Black and Brown faces in these very same areas in the US. In 1971 or 1981 I could not say this about Cuba because they were just creating that very first generation of Black and Brown intellectuals and skilled workers: men and women whose parents never thought they would see a Cuba where its African and Mestizo descendants could be not only in positions of political power but also in positions of science, engineering, skilled work and administration.

The Cubans have learned that building Socialism Cuban Style means that, among many many things, you no longer gloss over or simplify complex problems like racism/white supremacy or sexism that are at the very core of your society. The Cuban women's struggle against sexism, for example, has laid the foundation for its current struggle to eradicate antigay ideas and practices. This was unheard of back in the 90s much less at the beginning of the Revolution.... They are taking up the antiracist fight starting simultaneously from within Black Cuba and the government. It is not pretty, but it is also not about doing treasonous work or wishing for capitalism. The real thing about Cuba is that today and tomorrow it is a mainly Black and Brown nation coming to grips with the idea of "race" and its meaning within a society figuring how to build socialism in a world dominated by all forms of virulent but dying capitalism.

So, Mr Balter, there's no way in Hell that Cuba "is still as racist as the US or even more so." Wherever you are on the planet, your arrogant but ignorant statement objectively helps to reenforce the globalization process of white supremacy. Your statement falls into the same bag as the Tea Party folk and Donald Trump declaring Obama a non US Citizen: they know they can say this outright lie because it is coming from a white mouth and will be spread by the deeply racist corporate media. And they know that the white US citizenry is presently so dumbed down and infused with racism that anything coming from any white person must be truer than what any Black man has to say- even if he's the president of the US!

But, here among SftP Folk, I know the vast majority of us see straight thru you to your disdain for people actually struggling for socialism on the ground.

In Struggle,

Sam Anderson