by Esteban Morales Domínguez
Translated by Walter Lippmann for CubaNews.
June 30, 2021
it still causes many prejudices, misunderstandings and challenges,
there is no choice but to pay attention to skin color. Above all, in its
consideration within the media and national statistics.
society is a multiracial society, or rather, multicolored, mestizo. And
that reality has to be registered statistically. Not by handling the
Census as a simply numerical matter, but as a cultural demographic one.
is about the fact that color is a legacy of slavery. It is not possible
to avoid it, since it has marked Cuban society since its origins.
the Spaniards arrived in Cuba, in 1492, they did it with white
credentials and that is how they stayed. Those who came of their own
free will did so in search of a fortune, which they often found.
Spain is not White. Colonized by the Arabs for 800 years, it is
impossible to consider it as such. Even when the Spanish do not assume
the colonizers of our Archipelago were not white. Their power did not
consist in being white, but in having arrived with the cross and the
arrived in a territory of indigenous people, of low culture and they
only used them to find gold. They exploited them mercilessly and their
population mass did not last long, although we still have
representatives of that original population in Cuba.
also came, brought by means of a system of contracts that turned them
into slaves. The so-called “culíes” [coolies], who since then added
their beauty to the population of the Island, becoming a part of our
nationality. These three large groups were the ones that formed the
Cuban population. Later, other Antilleans joined, although not in the
magnitude of the first ones, also merging with our population.
the Spanish Crown, put rules for the care of the indigenous population;
anyway, the ambition of the colonizers, together with the regime of the
Encomiendas and slavery, reduced that population to its minimum
little more than 100 years, the so-called Tainos, Siboneys and
Guanahatebeys, almost disappeared, because they were not of an advanced
culture, as it happened for the rest of America. Cultures, Aztecs,
Mayas, Toltecs, etc. Those that did, culturally, had practically nothing
to envy to the European cultures of their time.
the existing indigenous population in the Cuban Archipelago lacked the
strength that comes from belonging to a superior culture.
with the Spaniards came the first blacks. Not from Africa, but directly
from Spain. Those blacks were called “Ladinos”. They were slaves in
Spain. They knew how to speak the language and had a certain culture,
acquired in the work of servitude, for which they also arrived in Cuba.
But they did so in reduced numbers.
vast majority of the blacks who arrived in Cuba, massively, did so
later, as a result of the slave trade. And massively, after the Haitian
Revolution of 1791, they settled in the eastern end of the island. They
had a great cultural impact, since they were accompanied by their French
masters. This is how the French contradanza and the so-called Tumba
Francesa arrived in Cuba. All of which, we know as antecedents of our
national dances, the Danzón.
the eastern region, the Antillean groups entered to participate in the
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 aforementioned regions more complicated.
they did not give rise to the formation of minorities, as in the United
States, but merged with the Cuban population, keeping their English and
the blacks were brought as slaves to Cuba, first for the work of
construction and later for the work of sugar production, within a
colonial regime already organized. To say black in Cuba was to say
These slaves, practically, since the XVI century, could buy their freedom.
the Spaniards arrived, they were men alone. Immediately, they began to
mix with the Indians and blacks, thus initiating the mestizaje of the
Island. And within a complex mestizaje, because it was formed by free or
enslaved people, mestizos or blacks. Not so the Spanish whites, who
never suffered the condition of slavery.
the blacks who were brought to the territory of the Thirteen North
American colonies, which later became the United States of America;
those who arrived, also brought from Africa as slaves to the
aforementioned territory, could not speak their languages, but only
English, they could not practice their religions or their cultures. They
were not allowed by the colonizers. In this sense, the slave regime
coming from England was harsher, with an almost absolute separation
between blacks and whites. That is what has ended up characterizing the
blacks brought to Cuba, also from Africa, the Spanish colonization
allowed them to speak their languages, worship their gods and practice
was that, for historical and cultural reasons, the Spanish were more
inclined to coexist with the cultural practices of the slaves in Cuba
and with the different colors.
in North America, in Cuba, the Spaniards coexisted better with the
differences in color. This also contributed to the differences
introduced in black slavery by the existence of domestic slavery and
Cuba this did not take place, but in the American colonization, there
was a type of colonizer who, not having money to cover the expenses of
his transfer to America, requested a loan, which obliged him to work,
practically as a slave or serf. Once the loan debt was paid, 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 master’s house, in Cuba there were never
serfs as such.
the plantation, blacks had to work from sunrise to sunset, under the
whip of the Foreman or Overseer. Meanwhile, in domestic work, the tasks
were deployed in the house of the slave owner, intertwined with the
activities of service to the family. There one could be a coachman,
cook, seamstress, wash and iron, set the table, mend the master’s
clothes and made him a concoction, when he was ill, etc. Performing
tasks that practically prepared him for a trade, in case one day he was
able to obtain his freedom, bought or manumitted.
contact with the family instructed them and endowed them with a certain
culture, which differentiated them from the plantation slaves. They
were only allowed to work in sugar cane cutting or sugar production.
wherever they were, were still slaves, and the trap, before the
slightest disobedience, was over him, like the Sword of Damocles. For
the white master did not allow them those freedoms that could inculcate
in them a culture of independence, which was closely guarded. But, in
domestic work, in fact, the advantages, they had them and not few took
advantage of them very well.
example, the girl of the house took a liking to the nice, docile little
black man, and could even teach him to read and write. In the domestic
context, the skillful, respectful, docile Negro was intimate with the
father of the house and got to know him even certain secrets, such as
his affairs with the black women, from which, not infrequently,
“bastard” children were born within the family.
black man, a connoisseur of herbs, prepared a concoction that cured the
master of pain. And within this intimacy, the master practically began
to see him as part of the family. He gave him chores, shared certain
secrets with his slave and thus, sometimes, this one, already old,
earned manumission, or the letter of freedom.
the master’s house, living together as a domestic slave, the black man
achieved advantages, which he often took advantage of and which made him
advance in social life, even while maintaining his status as a slave.
slavery generated a certain culture and within it, a level of
permissibility, of which the black could take advantage. This allowed
him to become part of society, even with all the disadvantages of a
in the United States, after the Civil War, slavery was abolished in the
North, but they 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 as slaves in the
in Cuba, where slavery was a homogeneous system throughout the island.
Therefore, 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.
course, slavery began to disappear after 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
it was finally abolished in a general way in 1886.
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.
slavery disappeared, but racism and discrimination, which it
engendered, for more than 400 years, remained imbricated within the
structure of Cuban society. And so, since the middle of the 19th
century, a society with a racist, mestizo and white hegemonic culture
began to emerge. Therefore, racism, racial discrimination and white
hegemony, within our mestizo society, have not yet been eliminated,
although they have been attenuated.
the Revolution that triumphed in 1959, found a society in which there
was a well-defined structure. The so-called whites had the power, they
always had it. Mestizos were, more or less, in an intermediate position,
some few had access to power; the blacks were, almost always, in the
subsoil of society. This is the result of a distribution of wealth that
colonialism inaugurated and Cuban-dependent capitalism took charge of
In Cuba, poverty was also massively white, but wealth was never black, and almost never mestizo.
Fidel, almost since the triumph of the Revolution, began to treat it
systematically, racism, racial discrimination and white racial hegemony
have not disappeared.
social policy that the revolution inaugurated in 1959 has always had a
profoundly humanist character, but, from the beginning, it focused only
on poverty, making no differentiation among the poor, treating poverty
as unique, which was never homogeneous, without differentiating within
it, according to skin color.
it have been possible, so early on, to have considered poverty, taking
into consideration its differences and levels, according to skin color?
don’t think so. I believe that this would have greatly complicated the
fight against racism and racial discrimination that was beginning at
that time. I believe that if Cuban society was not prepared, as it
became clear, to assimilate Fidel’s speech against racism, much less
would it have been prepared if, in addition, the existing differences in
the levels of poverty according to the color of the skin had been
introduced. I believe that this would have implied the introduction of a
certain level of affirmative action, for which whites, mestizos, and
not even blacks themselves were prepared.
is why, I believe, social policy, in Fidel’s speeches, began by
demanding employment for blacks, while everything else: health,
education, culture and sports and social security, fell under its own
weight and equally for all. When there was an equal distribution for
all, blacks and mestizos
got what, in general, had never been given to them before. Because the
blacks and, to some extent, the mestizos, had never enjoyed free and
quality education and much less, blacks, health. Sport was the opposite.
And so, it began to produce a distribution of national wealth,
which the nation had never known. And, within which, to blacks and
mestizos, almost never, almost nothing had touched them. For this
reason, although skin color was not taken into account, blacks and
mestizos benefited as never before in the history of the nation. For
this reason, it was not difficult for blacks and mestizos to understand
that the revolution was their revolution and that Fidel had been
concerned and fought for their welfare.
is one of the aspects that, in the last 40 years, we have managed to
fine-tune. Without yet reaching, as such, so-called Affirmative Action.
Forms of the latter have been gradually appearing in Cuba, but almost
indirectly. And we are still in the process of perfecting the initiated
path. What is beginning to take shape, by means of concern and an
occupation by the political leadership that there is no one left behind.
Having demonstrated that race does not exist, that it is a social invention. But that, however, color does,
and that, in our country, after 500 years [M1] of colonialism, skin
color continues to behave as a variable of social differentiation.
Against which, we have proposed to fight.
tells us why, 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
members 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 find employment and, in general, helped blacks and mestizos
to have a certain recognized social presence.
after the triumph of the Revolution, these societies began to
disappear, as a result of the consideration that they were not
necessary, since the revolution assumed the defense of blacks and
mestizos and that they could contribute more to the racial division
within the Cuban society.
paradoxically, at the same time, the Spanish Societies, considered as
white, were maintained in Cuba until today. The question still remains
unanswered: Why did the black ones disappear and these, coincidentally,
of whites, did not?
is something that has brought controversy and uneasiness, although not
only among blacks and mestizos. Today, it is even questioned whether
black and mestizo societies should not reappear. Today, the subject
tends to re-enter the debate. Especially because the problem of racism
and racial discrimination has not yet been completely overcome.
But the blacks and mestizos, from the beginning, did not make any demands and everything remained as it was.
in Cuba, after 60 years of a radical Revolution, of profoundly 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 it responds to a structural
dysfunctionality that even Cuban society drags along and is capable of
particular, the so-called Special Period showed that the economic
crisis had not affected all racial groups equally. Blacks and mestizos
suffered the most. This became evident.
government also realized that the difficulties with racism, which
surfaced with some force during the Special Period, were indicating that
it was a problem that, having been considered as solved, was not really
solved; or at least, it was not being solved at the pace that many had
imagined, but rather, racism had been hidden in the midst of the
difficulties experienced during those years of the mid-eighties and
then, there had been 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 racial issue would definitely occupy
its rightful place in the struggle for a better society in Cuba today.
think that, in this, we have to start from the existence of
inequalities, to reach real equality. Unfortunately, inequality is what
we find at every step. Equality is a social project, not yet achieved by
Cuban society as a whole.
we should not mechanically assume that all Cubans are equal, because
that was also wielded as a hypocritical slogan of Republican Cuba.
Cubans are not yet equal. We are equal 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. It
is, perhaps, only a step towards the latter.
there is a clear awareness that we must continue to fight against
inequality, pursuing it to those places where marginality still assaults
members of our society and not only blacks and mestizos. Therefore, the
work with the so-called Community projects gains unusual strength.
is possible to observe the Party and the government, extraordinarily
busy, mobilizing qualified human forces and resources, which are put in
the function of the solution of multiple material, spiritual and social
problems, which the Cuban society still has to overcome.
task of the Community Projects is strongly intertwined with the
Government Resolution, which serves as an instrument for the fight
against racism and racial discrimination.
had already become aware of all this and began to take action. He
conducted in-depth investigations in several underprivileged
neighborhoods on the situation of sometimes marginalized sectors.
was also, then, when the experience of the so-called Social Workers was
carried out; most of them blacks and mestizos, which resulted in many
young people, who neither studied nor worked (it is said that there were
80,000 in Havana) reaching the Universities. Those that had been
“whitened” during the Special Period.
at the end of the eighties, we took up the subject again. Which, I
think, is the period in which we find ourselves now, at the height of
during the 20’s and 30’s, above all, the racial issue had been present
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 they managed to keep it within the debate in the press of
the time, even in Diario de la Marina.
But that momentum was not maintained and by the triumph of the revolution, it had almost disappeared.
since the 80s, many publications of books, articles, essays,
documentaries, and research in some universities began to reappear.
Cinema frequently brought up the subject, as well as plastic arts,
theater and literature. Discussion groups and community projects arose,
which today deal with the racial issue and have given it a growing
presence in the national culture and life. In fact, it had been years
since the subject had such an important place in the national debate.
Díaz Canel, who dealt with the issue before becoming president and
continues to do so now, together with the Aponte Commission of the
UNEAC. The Aponte Commission replaced the group “Como agua para
chocolate” (Like water for chocolate), led by Gisela Arandia. She was
the initial promoter of the racial debate in UNEAC. Already, 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 is unfolding. Through the work of the
aforementioned Aponte Commission.
this movement has concluded, with the appearance of a Governmental
Resolution, above mentioned, where the guidelines for the attention and
treatment of the racial topic at national level are proposed. With the
presence, also, of all those groups interested in the subject. Aspects
of participation, which still require development.
I consider that, although we have made progress, we are still far from
giving the racial issue the impetus it requires. There are still many
situations to be resolved.
our society is culturally mestizo, the presence of racism, racial
discrimination and a certain [amount of] white hegemonism are still felt
in the following matters:
persist within the racial population structure, formed by whites,
blacks and mestizos. This is not a burden, but a phenomenon of social
dysfunctionality, which even Cuban society is capable of reproducing.
in access to employment also persist. With privileges for the white
population, in the most important and better-remunerated jobs: tourism,
corporations, state positions, etc. Not so in political positions,
especially within the party, Popular Power and Mass Organizations, where
the participation of blacks and mestizos is becoming more present.
-Differences by color, in the access to possibilities of higher studies, Universities, masters, doctorates, etc.
prejudice and discrimination against the black and mestizo population,
which tends not to manifest itself aggressively, but are still present.
presence of an insufficient number of interracial marriages. With a
marked tendency towards racial mixing among young people, which is
indicative of the fact that young people are shedding their prejudices.
in the mass media, mainly on television, in which white faces have
dominated, and only recently have black and mixed-race faces begun to
appear. In response to a recent specific claim made by Army General Raúl
Castro in the National Assembly.
written press barely reflects the problems of the racial issue. There
is no systematic treatment on the subject. Nor is there any promotion of
writers who deal with the subject. Almost never in our press there is
an article that deals with the subject.
Political and Mass Organizations do not debate the racial issue. They
do not promote its discussion, nor do they consider it in their work
-Discrimination in classical ballet.
-Racist jokes and expressions abound in cabaret activities.
recently, the teaching of history has begun to reflect the place of
blacks and mestizos in the formation of our national history. And
teachers are being prepared to address it.
very recently, the bibliography used, with honorable exceptions, and
very well known, did not reflect the role of the black and mestizo
population in the construction of our nation. Now a strong and arduous
bibliographic work is being carried out by the Ministries of Education,
aimed at solving this insufficiency of vital consideration for the
teaching of history.
-There is neither a Social History of the black nor of the black woman, produced in Cuba.
dealing with the racial issue, at any level and in any social space,
can generate certain discontent, prejudices and discomfort.
is only recently that our national assembly has begun to present a
structure that almost faithfully reflects the racial composition of
those who deal with the subject in a systematic way, their discussions
are not disclosed, always remaining in the frameworks of groups and
-In Cuban schools there is no mention of color, leaving it to personal spontaneity to deal with the problem.
-In our universities, the racial issue is hardly studied. Nor does it appear in the teaching curricula.
academic research hardly refers to the racial issue sufficiently and it
is practically absent from the student scientific work.
recently, we have begun to observe that an effort is being made to
attend to the racial composition of workgroups, activities, or
situations in which the black and the mestizo should be represented.
This can be seen with particular emphasis on television.
reality, our statistics, social, economic and political, are colorless.
Throwing centuries of national history into the dustbin. They fail to
appreciate where the problems lie.
economic statistics do not allow to cross color, with variables of
employment, housing, wages, income, etc. This prevents us from
investigating, in-depth, how the standard of living of the different
racial groups is advancing. Especially those who were previously
consider that as long as the racial issue is not treated systematically
and coherently, at a comprehensive level, and is reliably reflected in
our statistics and in our media, we cannot aspire to socially advance
the country on the subject.
inherited culture is racist; that is to say, the practice of racism is
cultural, instinctive, responding mainly, but not only, to inherited
mechanisms that work, not infrequently, unconsciously.
until the issue enters education, is strongly discussed socially, is
part of the systematic work of the media and is statistically
considered, we cannot expect it to become part of the culture, nor can
we aspire to advance in it, banishing it from the usual forms of
behavior of citizens in our country.
fact is that the absence of attention, almost generalized, for a long
time, of the racial issue, has very negative consequences. This is
because its knowledge, understanding and consideration at the social
level, as something that harms the Cuban nation. This is 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
June 30, 2021