Loud Secret

I’m sitting in the living room of one of the women of The Red Barrio. They are social justice movement, my US-centric wording, that are part of a the Neighborhood Network.  The goal of the group is help their community, they formed in November of 2012 after meeting that following August at a large public debate among Latin American leaders and Cuban intellectuals.

Like many of us working in Academia, talk is cheap; theory can be even cheaper.

The Women of the Red Barrio focused on providing services to the community. Such as entrepreneurship opportunities for non-traditional business owners, classes on gender discourse, resources for racial discrimination, and popular education.

That last one caught my ear as well as my fellow study abroad group members. We wanted to know, what was popular education? The theory behind popular education is “respecting the knowledge and experience of everyone at the table.” It shifts traditional pedagogy from teacher as authority and decimator of knowledge, to a more equitable relationship. Everyone has something to learn and everyone has something to teach.

We talked a lot about race. Not only in that session with the ladies of the Red Barrio, but also with a lot of the students, academics, and activists that we met. We asked over and over again the same question: Is there racism in Cuba? It was the same answer every time. No.

I’d like to take a step back. Asking such a blunt, such a loaded question might not be the best way to go about it. Also, such a question leaves very little room for nuance. To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure any if us asking the question knew what we meant when we said racism. We reflected over the answers we got-usually over Cuba Libres back at the residence-and asked ourselves, how much of a US perspective were we viewing this situation through?

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Central Habana

 

Linda Alcoff Martín, in her article, “Afterword: The Black/White Binary and Antiblack Racism” writes “Racisms take their opportunities from local discourses and conflicts and histories.”[1] Our group was coming from a country that while participated in the Atlantic Slave Trade like the rest of the Caribbean and Latin America, had a different history. Our definition of racism comes from chattel slavery, the US civil war, reconstruction, Jim Crow and the present day war on its Black citizens. This is not the same history for Cuba. For Cuba, their definition is filtered through chattel slavery, the Haitian Revolution, several wars of independence, both the Machado and Batista régime and the Cuban revolution. Suffice to say, our working definitions  racism, as Alcoff Martín argues, needs to be”more adept at comprehending the rapid pace of change in configurations of meanings and practices.”[2]

In a similar discussion about race that we had at the University of Oriente in Santiago de Cuba, the issue of race and racism in Cuba came up. One of our translators said, in regards to if there was racism in Cuba, “It is our loud secret.” That phrase stuck with me.

Our reaction to the loud secret that is racism in Cuba isn’t new. John Clytus when visiting Cuba was arrested for trying to enter the Guantanamo naval base. He had an interesting conversation with the guard. He writes:

I wondered if he were so stupid as to believe that people who had been racists their whole lives, had a country with a history of racism, and were still under the culture of the racist Western world, could suddenly stop being racists.”[3]

I suspect a solution to any racial problem should be based in the a same historical context  and locality that is required to complexly define racism. Also, 60 years of a revolution cannot undo centuries of racism. Not in Cuba, not in the United States.

 

[1] Alcoff, Linda Martín. 2013. “Afterword: The Black/White Binary and Antiblack Racism.” Critical Philosophy Of Race no. 1: 121. Project MUSE, EBSCOhost.

[2] Alcoff, 2013.

[3] John Clytus. “Black Man in Red Cuba.” The Cuba Reader. Edited by Aviva Chomsky, Pamela María Smorkaloff, and Barry Carr.  2003.

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