Cuba, Racism, and Irresponsibility

June 25, 2009

Sujatha Fernandes’s article “Revolutionary Imagination in Cuba and Venezuela” (March/April) contains the rather startling assertion, unsupported by even anecdotal evidence, that “as the revolutionary years gave way to the austere Special Period [in Cuba], racism became visible once again.” I have never read such an assertion previously, in these pages or elsewhere, and it is contrary to my own experience in Cuba in 1997, when I found that one of the most salient aspects of Cuban society was the absence of any visible racism. Moreover, given the revolution’s explicit and active long-term opposition to racism, it seems unlikely and counterintuitive that racism would reemerge after having been eradicated, simply because of the presence of widespread (and color-blind) economic hardship. It is irresponsible to make such a statement without citing examples.

Dave Linn
Soap Lake, Washington

Sujatha Fernandes replies: To cite the reemergence of racial stratification in contemporary Cuba is not to make an outlandish claim, as this reader suggests. It has been detailed in several well-documented and carefully researched studies both inside and outside Cuba, including a piece by Alejandro de la Fuente published in these pages (“The Resurgence of Racism in Cuba,” May/June 2001). These studies do acknowledge the important gains made by Afro-Cubans under the revolution and the tremendous reduction in racial inequality achieved in Cuba since 1959. But they also seek to understand the incomplete nature of this process, as tourism and market forces have laid the groundwork for racial tensions and inequalities. After years of official silence on issues of race, a healthy, vibrant debate has begun on the island, in academia as well as in forums like rap music and the visual arts. What is irresponsible is to view Cuba through rose-colored glasses, as some foreigners do, projecting their own fantasies rather than engaging the country’s complex and difficult realities.


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