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Cuba has an ongoing process of reconciliation towards racism

MALCOLM RICHARDS gives an insight into how race and racism are discussed within Cuban politics

HAVING written the article seeking to explore and reflect dialogue from an African diaspora perspective, I am thankful for a wealth of positive comments in response, including the response from Dave Chapple (Bridgewater), entitled “Is racism lingering despite schooling?” 

I was disappointed that in reading Chapple’s response, it seemed to shift the dialogue away from the voice of Afro-Cubans, onto commonly trodden, and preferred terrain of a socialist Cuban narrative, which he clearly contests. 

However, my closer reading of his comments uncovered an “uncomfortable truth” which should perhaps be explored further: where are the other (English-speaking) voices in the discourse about race and the Afro-Cuban education experience?

Over the last decade, as part of the NEU’s international solidarity campaigns, black, Asian and ethnic minority members have visited Cuba and other countries regularly, reporting and sharing their voices and experiences to members around Britain. 

Those reports, videos and commentary are available online or through organisations such as the Cuba Solidarity Campaign (cuba-solidarity.org.uk).

Across Latin America, Africa, the Caribbean and within diaspora communities in the United States and Britain, there has been a well established and significant body of academic, independent and policy research which asserts this position. 

Cuban intellectuals and writers, such as Esteban Morales Dominguez (see “Race in Cuba: essays on the revolution and racial inequality,” 2012) or Danielle Pilar Clealand (see “The Power of Race in Cuba: Racial Ideology and Black Consciousness the Revolution,” 2017) offer comprehensive critical dialogue by Afro-Cubans and their diaspora, in the English language. 

Indeed, a wealth of English language examples such as articles, video and opinion are easily accessible through a simple internet search on the words “Cuba Race Education.” 

During the delegation trip to Cuba, I was able to openly and freely engage in dialogue about race and racism, and heard opinions from Cuban voices offering differing and complex opinions about the topic. 

This took place in formal education spaces, but also when spending time with ordinary people — all speaking English. 

The reasoning was nuanced, opinionated and diverse. Why are so many of us are completely unaware of this?

To assume critical discourse within Cuba is not happening because it isn’t in our preferred language, or outside of our groups of interest or awareness is symptomatic of the uncomfortable truths that need to be confronted. 

There is little debate that anti-racist organisations, alliances and groups which fight for equality and social justice in education have had a profound effect in radically altering the legislative and curriculum landscapes in Britain. 

They continue to support the struggle of communities who face injustice daily, and will be vital to help shape the way in which institutions and structures think and present their relationship with race.

Yet, if we were to confront the uncomfortable truth, highlighted by Chapple’s observations, our anti-racist, communist and socialist communities maintain a “rigid refusal to look at ourselves...” (James Baldwin), when talking about race and racism. 

Activists of African descent in Britain continue to challenge the uncomfortable truth that our voices are purposefully obscured or absent from the discourse or the decisions about what we will teach or how we talk about race in education. 

The danger of this refusal for anti-racism is obvious, and articulated by Baldwin best, who suggests: “If we cannot understand ourselves we will not understand anything.”

Despite the best intentions of many, there are those who claim “socialist credentials” yet continue to ensure minority narratives, knowledge, experience and pedagogical understanding are unexplored. 

They are positioned as lesser than. This is done in a variety of ways, whether through unconscious bias, overt and covert discrimination, or plain obvious, direct acts of racism. 

The result is a maintaining a collective myopia and amnesia when observing or talking about this, often responding with their own binary interpretations and positioning of a complex issue.

The strength of this dialogue, which the article sought to engage, is to produce an opportunity to confront uncomfortable truths. 

For me, racism, and its patterns of enrichment and impoverishment remain the legacy of anywhere touched, and built by the colonial projects of the western European nations. 

To be clear, for me, this phenomenon is evident in every country, system, institution and “-isms and -schisms” (Ras Bob Marley), whose foundations are forged by the shameful history of colonialism. 

The focus of dialogue on Afro-Cubans should not be defined by those outside or observing Afro-Cubans, about the use of pseudonyms or potential jeopardy.

If we do that, we continue to maintain the inequality of the present, obscuring the words and lived experiences shared by “Eddie” as an Afro-Cuban, and invalidate the authenticity of his viewpoint. We do too much of that already within our activism in Britain. 

The key difference between Cuba and many other nations is that through legislative advances, redefined values, pedagogical approaches, a culturally relevant curriculum and a reframing of knowledge, there is an ongoing process towards reconciliation of its shameful past, and tangible actions and resources to facilitate this.

Eddie said: “El bloquero.” We need to start there.

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