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On Racism

An excerpt from Terrence Cannon’s book:
Thomas Y. Crowell, New York
© 1981 by Terrence Cannon | Page 113

Racism and racial discrimination were never as deep or widespread in Cuba as they were in the United States. For centuries, black Cubans had played a recognized role in the struggle for independence. As one Cuban scholar put it, “The term Cubano in its very inception was a multiracial term.”

Segregation came to Cuba in 1898 with the occupying (and segregated) armed forces of the United States. “With the U.S. domination of Cuba,” Fidel said in 1975, “race discrimination, which should have been wiped out forever by the blood shed in common on the field of battle… became especially acute. In the parks of many cities one could observe the disgraceful sight of blacks and whites segregated in separate areas. Many educational, economic, cultural and recreational establishments were barred to black citizens, who were denied the right to study, work, and enjoy culture, and what is more important, human dignity.”

Despite this, the ideology of racism failed to embed itself deeply among the peasants and workers, and it was fought strenuously by all progressive and left-wing movements and organizations. Practically no trade union in Cuba after 1902 barred black members. Cuban historian Pedro Serviát, a specialist in studies of Cuban race relations, stated in 1976 that in the entire history of Cuba he could find only two cases of the lynching of black Cubans by whites.

This is not to say that racism had not been fostered by those in power. In 1912, black Cubans in Oriente province were forced to rise up against the racist practices of the Cuban government and the degrading treatment of black veterans who had fought in the war of independence. The United States landed troops to defend the government, and the rebellion was suppressed.

The antiracist tradition of Maceo, Céspedes, and Martí was continued by the revolutionaries who overthrew Batista. The M-26-7, the Cuban Communist Party, and the Revolutionary Directorate gathered in their ranks men and women of all colors. When the Rebel Army entered Havana, it swept before it not only the government and army of the dictatorship, but the social conventions, hierarchical structures, and racial practices that had supported dictatorial rule.

Two months after the victory, Fidel told a rally of workers in Havana:

"It should not be necessary to dictate a law against an absurd prejudice. That which should be dictated is the public condemnation against any people so filled with old vices and prejudices that they would discriminate against Cubans over questions of lighter or darker skin."

"We are a mixed race from Africa and Spain. No one should consider themselves a pure race, much less a superior race."

"We are going to put an end to this odious and repugnant system…"

His speech was interrupted by cheers. Fidel was speaking to a deeply felt desire.

Return to 1960

Race | Nicolás Guillén