January 30, 2006

Racism, 1850s Style

Last month I came across some disturbing passages that revealed the racist ideology of the 1850s. The passages came from the book by Alexander Humboldt, The Island of Cuba. More precisely, they came from the Preliminary Essay by J.S. Thrasher that appears at the beginning of the book, which was reprinted in 1969 by Negro University Press. Thrasher originally translated the book, leaving out a chapter opposing slavery, and adding his own pro-slavery slant. What’s particularly disturbing is not the openness of the racism expressed, but realizing that we’ve put much more effort into hiding our racism than into changing it, or working through it.

Thrasher asserts that the slaves benefited from slavery as much as the master. Here we see the point of view of the Spanish Empire and the slave-holding U.S. South. We see that in Cuba, the local Indians were not wiped out, they simply “ceased to exist,” and that slavery was portrayed as a “social necessity,” with “moral” and “material” benefits to the slave. (I can’t help think of the current rhetoric for isolationism and violence.)

Today’s racism is much more polished and hidden, covered up by words like “democracy” and “freedom” and “human rights,” and hard-wired into the way things work. It essentially adds up to the same thing.


January 17, 2006

Race War of 1912

The struggle for racial equality in Cuba is a unique and painful story, full of dramatic gains and losses, victories and atrocities.

The various articles and images that make up the current Race in Cuba section at the site is but a peak into a much larger and complex world, where black and white have a different meaning than they do here in the states. We grow as individuals by exploring these issues, and we grow as a society by discussing them.

Featured are the optimistic musings of José Martí, and a look at the horrific reality of the so-called Race War of 1912. The extremes of human potential and decadence are all there.

In 1912 Cuba, newspapers were more than willing to support the official government point of view that the previously scheduled demonstration by members of the Partido Independiente de Color for May 20 was, in fact, a race war.

One paper reported the violent rape of a white female teacher by a black demonstrator. The event had never taken place, but its mere suggestion revived the race fears that existed in upper class white society. That seemed to be all that white society required to begin the slaughter of nearly 6,000 human beings, all guilty of black skin.

One reason for the slaughter may have been to cover up a deal with Cuban President José Miguel Gómez and leaders of the Partido Independiete de Color: Evaristo Estenoz and Pedro Ivonnet. Both men were killed in June 1912 while “trying to escape,” just after they had turned themselves into the authorities.

In May and June 1912, it was almost legal to kill blacks for mere “suspicion.” This has to be one of the darkest chapters in Cuban history.

Everyone got away with it. President Gómez got to keep the money he stole in office, and was never charged with a crime.


January 08, 2006

Strike One, You’re Out!

We don’t have to play ball with anyone we can’t conquer. Or so it would seem by last month’s announcement that Cuba will not be allowed to play at the upcoming World Baseball Tournament (March 3-20 in the U.S., Japan and Puerto Rico) because of the embargo.

Should it matter that some of the best baseball players in the world come from Cuba? Or that Cuba has won 3 of the 4 gold medals since baseball became an Olympic sport? What stands out is that the leader of the free world, a former baseball team owner, would rather continue the practice of isolationism.

Such ideology is equally prevalent in Cuban policy.

In November of last year, a group of dissident Cuban women (the Ladies in White) won a prestigious European human rights award, but were denied permission to travel and receive their prize in Strasbourg.

All of which points to the fact that Bush and Castro may have more in common than plain idiotic hate of the other.

Last July a Cuban soccer team was allowed to play in the U.S., perhaps because they didn’t violate the embargo by receiving any money, or perhaps because Castro is not a soccer fan.

Of course, not every Yale-Harvard alumni would have seen how much more troublesome it would have been for Castro if Cuban teams had been allowed to play.

For example: 1. A few of those Cuban players might have defected, giving Fox News something to report on the island other than balseros (rafters). 2. The Cuban team might have lost, maybe even to an American team. 3. The money that the ballplayers took home might have become encouragement or inspiration for future defections or changes on the island.

Instead, Castro can still point to a bully-superpower that clearly prefers conflict and isolationism to cultural and sportsmanlike exchanges.