For Blacks in Cuba, the Revolution Hasn’t Begun

Roberto Zurbano, New York Times, March 23, 2013

Change is the latest news to come out of Cuba, though for Afro-Cubans like myself, this is more dream than reality. Over the last decade, scores of ridiculous prohibitions for Cubans living on the island have been eliminated, among them sleeping at a hotel, buying a cellphone, selling a house or car and traveling abroad. These gestures have been celebrated as signs of openness and reform, though they are really nothing more than efforts to make life more normal. And the reality is that in Cuba, your experience of these changes depends on your skin color.

The private sector in Cuba now enjoys a certain degree of economic liberation, but blacks are not well positioned to take advantage of it. We inherited more than three centuries of slavery during the Spanish colonial era. Racial exclusion continued after Cuba became independent in 1902, and a half century of revolution since 1959 has been unable to overcome it.


It’s true that Cubans still have a strong safety net: most do not pay rent, and education and health care are free. But the economic divergence created two contrasting realities that persist today. The first is that of white Cubans, who have leveraged their resources to enter the new market-driven economy and reap the benefits of a supposedly more open socialism. The other reality is that of the black plurality, which witnessed the demise of the socialist utopia from the island’s least comfortable quarters.

Most remittances from abroad—mainly the Miami area, the nerve center of the mostly white exile community—go to white Cubans. They tend to live in more upscale houses, which can easily be converted into restaurants or bed-and-breakfasts—the most common kind of private business in Cuba. Black Cubans have less property and money, and also have to contend with pervasive racism. Not long ago it was common for hotel managers, for example, to hire only white staff members, so as not to offend the supposed sensibilities of their European clientele.

That type of blatant racism has become less socially acceptable, but blacks are still woefully underrepresented in tourism—probably the economy’s most lucrative sector—and are far less likely than whites to own their own businesses. Raúl Castro has recognized the persistence of racism and has been successful in some areas (there are more black teachers and representatives in the National Assembly), but much remains to be done to address the structural inequality and racial prejudice that continue to exclude Afro-Cubans from the benefits of liberalization.

Racism in Cuba has been concealed and reinforced in part because it isn’t talked about. The government hasn’t allowed racial prejudice to be debated or confronted politically or culturally, often pretending instead as though it didn’t exist. Before 1990, black Cubans suffered a paralysis of economic mobility while, paradoxically, the government decreed the end of racism in speeches and publications. To question the extent of racial progress was tantamount to a counterrevolutionary act. This made it almost impossible to point out the obvious: racism is alive and well.


[Editor’s Note: It appears that, as a result of this article, the author was demoted from his position as a leading cultural official in Cuba.]

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  • The__Bobster

    Spoonies love communism, as it makes de facto the redistribution society.

    • So CAL Snowman

      But in an all black society there is NOTHING to redistribute! They don’t love communism anymore than they love capitalism. Communism requires LABOR. Labor is essentially the backbone of communism because without the labor of the individual there are no goods and services provided for the whole. As we all know, blacks and labor go together like oil and water.

      • Bad_Mr_Frosty

        So they love communism when they live in a multi-racial society.

      • TheAntidote

        Right. The Marxists say, “the real wealth of the world is labor.” So if you have a population that is resistant to training, lacking in motivation or inspiration, incapable of being organized, and unproductive then you will have a poor country—-regardless of the abundance of energy or resources.

  • John Pershing

    Well I guess this is how it is coming to play out in Cuba after all. I wrote about this in Vdare quite some time back and it does appear indeed that Señor Zurbano has been deemed (abeit belatedly) a “superfluous State employee”.

  • Puggg

    Well? What happened to all those cigar hustling gay blacks in Cuba that were self-deploying strategies to become new revolutionary people in their gravitational space that that Yale anthropology professor gloated about?

    • brengunn

      HAhahahaha! Great stuff, Puggg. Nice parody of the jargon. I had forgotten all about that.

      • It’s so hard to forget:

        Dr. Allen’s critical ethnography, ¡Venceremos?: Sexuality, Gender and Black Self-Making in Cuba [Perverse Modernities series of Duke University Press, Fall 2011], marshals a combination of historical, literary, and cultural analysis– most centrally, ethnographic rendering of the everyday experiences and reflections of Black Cubans—to show how Black men and women strategically deploy, re-interpret, transgress and potentially transform racialized and sexualized interpellations of their identities, through “erotic self-making.” ¡Venceremos? argues that mutually constituting scenes in Havana and Santiago de Cuba– like semi-private, extra-legal parties of men who have sex with men; HIV education activism; lesbian performance and incipient organizing of women who have sex with women; hip-hop and la monia (US R&B/soul music) parties and concerts; sex labor; cigar “hustling”; and informal Black consciousness raising networks– represent a gravid space for becoming new revolutionary men and women, with new racial, gender and sexual subjectivities.

        We should set the above prose to “Call Me Maybe,” or “Whoopa Gangnam Style” or the Harlem Shake. Or maybe this would be best fit for another Downfall parody: “Hitler finds out some black Yale anthro prof has invaded the gravid space of black gay Cubans.”

        • brengunn

          My theory is that all this flowery language that is so common in intellectual blacks is a symptom of an intellectual inferiority complex. Or maybe it’s just that these silly gender studies programs encourage it to hide the essential emptiness of their subject. Or both.

          • MBlanc46

            Black academics are just aping the whites who invented this sort of “analysis” in the 70s and 80s (it actually goes back at least to the early 20th century).

          • convairXF92

            Reminds me of the stilted language (complete with poorly-used abstruse words) of Adam Wheeler, the guy who faked his way into Harvard and then tried to fake his way out. Check the Harvard *Crimson* archive for Wheeler’s resume and interview statements. Compare to Dr. Allen’s.

          • claudio

            He is probably just studied in REAL English in the UK. There are relatively few erudite Yanks (white or black) in the US of A.

        • guest

          I love that professor! I’m the one who started posting links to him here on Amren. White tax dollars have turned that would-be black tranny ho into an Ivy League professor! He gets grants from the NSF! I can’t get a grant from the NSF and I work in some very innovative engineering research areas which will make a difference in the world.

          I would love to see those Youtube videos you propose. I want to know how Hitler feels about the mutually constituting self-making scenes of transnational queer desire.

          I fantasize that there will be a day of total rage in which this “professor” and all of his kind must pay back all that he owes us. I dream the entire debt will be due in full, a balloon payment that captures all that he has cost us, and there’s only one way to pay it back.

        • MBlanc46

          I work in scholarly publishing (Duke UP being one of my clients); deciphering this sort of rubbish is my job. This is an abstract, so the gibberish is distillled, but it does seem at the far end of the curve. Thank goodness this wasn’t one of my projects.

  • IstvanIN

    From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.Even in a communist society blacks have few abilities and little to contribute. Even sugar cane can be harvested by machine. There is no need for the Negro any more.

    • Yorkshireman.

      All they have to do is get together (problem), start an Afro only Hotel staffed by Afro workers (problem), offer only Afro food and Afro service (problem) and promote the facility in Afro Africa, Afro America etc and just wait for all those rich Afro tourists to pour in and support their Afro brothers in this wonderful Afro venture (problem). But I’m certain they have already thought about this idea and dismissed it as too much of a problem.

    • John R

      One “problem” with Communism, according to blacks-it is a system that doesn’t tolerate criminals, or other parasites. All must work for the common good. Hence, the poor blacks can’t use crime to intimidate Whites into making more concessions to them, and they can’t bum like they do here in the US.

  • Crystal Evans

    I kind of figure that blacks would be left out of Cuba’s prosperity. The people who prosper in Cuba have access to dollars. These include bartenders, cab drivers, waitresses etc. White Cubans tend to fill these roles because tourists are more comfortable dealing with whites than blacks. Blacks may be politicians or teachers. But they do not benefit from the dollar economy.

    • Jim Bob Lassiter

      Don’t put to much faith in the almighty dollar Ms. Crystal. Granted that’s a topic for discussion in another venue, but just sayin’.

  • David Ashton

    Che Guevara had a low opinion of blacks.
    Incidentally, I have been unable to track down evidence of allegations that the young Castro, like Allende, was sympathetic to eugenics in early days.

    • Unperson

      There’s a very unflattering bio of Che by Humberto Fontova that includes some of the bearded wonder’s lesser-known quotes. Such as, after he noticed that Castro’s insurgenents were almost all-white while Cuban blacks mostly couldn’t be bothered to participate, Che said “The Revolution will do for blacks exactly what blacks did for the Revolution — NOTHING!” (The above article suggests this prediction has been proven correct.)

      “Doctor” Guevara also made some remarks about how easily blacks are seduced by shiny objects and silly status symbols — as opposed to the industrious, forward-thinking white race who have their priorities straight — that are so critical they wouldn’t be out of place here on AR.

      • Luis

        Kudos to you, Unperson; for bringing up that quote by Che Guevara regarding Cuba Bantus. Not only did he say that about Cuban Bantus, but he also felt African Bantus were as useless as bazooms on a bull, during visits he made to the mother continent.
        And STILL, most Bantus and haole American college students get moist below the belt regarding Che Guevara.

        • Unperson

          Whenever I see a black person wearing a Che T-shirt I’m tempted to ask them if they know what their brown hero had to say about blacks like them. But it probably wouldn’t accomplish anything more than getting myself yelled at — and maybe even assaulted — for any such attempt at interracial information-sharing, no matter how sincere or how politely presented. So I say nothing… and the black continues in Che-loving blissful ignorance.
          Oh well. You can’t enlighten people who are bound and determined to remain in the dark.

  • josh

    They are not well represented in the tourist industry. Ya think?

    • Flaxen-headed strumpet

      They used to be well represented under the Batista regime as male and female performers in pay to view live sex shows and the mulatta women did quite well in the brothels servicing rich old Gringos and Mexican sex tourists of all ages. I once read a Mexican contemporary bromide that went as follows:

      La educación sexual de un hombre no está completa sino hasta que se haya cojido con una mulatta cubana”

      • Bossman

        Everybody, it seems, would like to hump mulattas. Brazil has a sexy image because of all the mulattas there.

  • brengunn

    Blacks in Cuba do well in the boxing ring and playing in bands. Not so much in business or academia. Coincidence?

    • claudio

      Nope. Wholly predictable that you would come out with such nonsense.

      • brengunn

        Is it true or is it not? Your refutation is worth nothing unless you point out the prominent blacks in Cuban academia, the arts, politics etc. I often have people like you disagree with me but they never provide evidence for their position.

  • bigone4u

    This raises the question of whether racism is the disease holding blacks back or is it blacks holding blacks back. I vote for the blacks.

    • Morris LeChat

      nothing is holding blacks back, they just wont get up and move forward, too lazy

    • claudio

      False dichotomy. (Hope that’s not too “flowery” a term).

  • Derelictus

    Cold War Conservatives use the modern racial disparities in Cuba to “show” how Castro is actually an evil racist…truth is that no amount of “socialismo” or Marxist coddling can magically make Blacks…unBlack. Cuba is an interesting experiment showing that Black culture remains the same regardless of the political system it’s under. Social democracy, hard totalitarianism, chattel slavery, no government at all…always the same basic outcome, it seems.

  • APaige

    “structural inequality”…using Marxist terms to criticize the racial inequality of a Marxist country, how ironically utopian. “Incompetent Blacks of the World Unite!”

  • Howard W. Campbell

    Cuba is ahead of the US in one respect, they can get rid of their superfluous government employees.

  • Just, my dearest friends, to giveto you a Russian nursery rhyme as a gift

    For drinking there are right reasons:
    Reception, birthday, weekend, season,
    Baptism, friend’s weddings and divorce,
    Hard work, rest, Xmas, then remorse,
    Sick day, recovery, spring bloom,
    New mistress, joy, old spouse, gloom,
    Success, reward, football, nice brawl,
    And not a reason is — at all!

  • guest

    Editor’s Note: It appears that, as a result of this article, the author was demoted from his position as a leading cultural official in Cuba.

    I’m sure he’ll be offered an Ivy League professorship at 100x whatever his former salary was.

    • Morris LeChat

      they told him to “just ease on down, ease on down, da road”

  • sbuffalonative

    So blacks were left out of the revolution. More proof they’re just useful tools of the ‘progressive’ left.

  • NeanderthalDNA

    “The private sector in Cuba now enjoys a certain degree of economic liberation, but blacks are not well positioned to take advantage of it. We inherited more than three centuries of slavery during the Spanish colonial era. Racial exclusion continued after Cuba became independent in 1902, and a half century of revolution since 1959 has been unable to overcome it.”

    Excuse excuse excuse excuse…yeah fella, I’ve heard it all before. Yet even with all those freebies and all that leftist claptrap…still the cream rises to the top!

    Some ray of hope here, eh? Even in commie Cuba…


    Why don’t ya migrate to Angola. You might be the cream there, not unlike the mulattoes who colonized that shining star, Liberia!


    • Morris LeChat

      the pathetically slow monkey brain is just noticing now “hey,,,, deys dats goes tooz Miamees sends da moneys back to dair peepohs in cubah. And dair peepohs in cuba, dey can yooz dats moneys to libs in da bettah housssis. Dy can yooz dats moneys to start bidnizzezz n sheeeet. Hoh-ree-magerrah, eyes gawn go gits my nieces and nephes and makes dem swims to Miamis!”

  • Katherine McChesney

    I stopped reading when I got to the part that he’s an ‘Afro-Cuban’. Probably another whiney ‘victim’.

  • John R

    ” The government hasn’t allowed racial prejudice to be debated or confronted politically or culturally, often pretending instead as though it didn’t exist.”
    Gee. Maybe there ARE things we can learn from the Communistys after all? Tongue in cheek, sometimes I almost feel that it might be better to live under Communism than under liberal multiculturalism.

  • “We inherited more than three centuries of slavery during the Spanish colonial era.”
    Here we go… And I get a feeling that these 3 centuries of slavery will justify 3 milenia of laziness.

  • Morris LeChat

    once again, the negro sits there and complains that the white man is doing nothing for him. The white men didn’t carry any of his people to miami on their backs when they made it across the waters. The white man in Miami does not give money to other families besides his own back in Cuba. Since blacks were too cowardly and lazy to make the effort, blacks are totally absent from the Miami Cuban Community. The blacks had rent free housing, and gubmint foods and edjikayshuns, and the black man didn’t feel the need to do anything on his own. Now, the white people, who did expend time,and effort, and took great risks, now they are supposed to do what? Give money to the stupid lazy monkeys? Same old story folks. The black man only notices his poverty when he sees the white man make something better for himself. Then the black man starts figuring ways to take it.

    • claudio

      You wouldn’t happen to be from the United States would you?

  • claudio

    Great article. Great website.
    I think “I’ll be back”..