Tag Archives: Racism in Cuba

Colin Kaepernick’s Ignorance of Racism in Castro’s Cuba

Kaepernick wearing a Malcolm X hat and a T-shirt with photos of Malcolm X and Fidel Castro
Kaepernick wearing a Malcolm X hat and a T-shirt with photos of Malcolm X and Fidel Castro

The Weekly Standard

The 49ers QB wore a shirt commemorating Fidel’s meeting with Malcolm X.

Over the weekend, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem at the beginning of an NFL preseason game. Predictably, this touched off a firestorm after Kaepernick explained at a press conference after the game that this was done to protest injustice in America. “I’m going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed,” he said. “To me, this is something that has to change. When there’s significant change and I feel like that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand.”

I think Kaepernick’s gesture is overwrought, but I found his full remarks to be more nuanced and less brazenly anti-American than, say, what you’re bound to hear from your average San Francisco city council member. He’s well within his rights as an American to make such a statement, and I think his motivations are well-intentioned, if misguided. It’s probably also overwrought for the local news to be airing footage of fans burning his jersey.

Kaepernick even said some thoughtful things that conservatives would appreciate. I was particularly struck by this: “Someone that’s holding a curling iron has more education and more training than people that have a gun and are going out on the street to protect us.” He has a point. In California, you need 1,600 hours of training to be a licensed cosmetologist. It takes only about 1,500 hours of training to be a commercial airline pilot. Maybe this is more a lesson in occupational licensing reform, but Kaepernick is correct that cops often lack necessary training relative to the pressures and demands we put on on them to keep the peace.

However, there was one startling display of ignorance by Kaepernick that makes me think he’s not the best person to listen to on the topic of racial injustice. I’m referring to his attire at the press conference: a Malcolm X hat, and though it’s difficult to make out, his T-shirt is of photos commemorating Malcolm X meeting Fidel Castro.

One can revisit the great civil rights debate over using violence as a means to an end; suffice to say, America’s better off that Martin Luther King, Jr. and his commitment to nonviolence, not Malcolm X and his “by any means necessary” approach, won the day. And this divide is only highlighted by Castro’s harboring of a bunch of American cop killers, such as Assata Shakur and Eldridge Cleaver, who claim their unconscionable and murderous actions were done in the name of “racial justice”.

The biggest problem here is that Kaepernick is seemingly unaware of Castro’s legacy. Aside from Castro dragooning and executing Christians and gays, Castro’s record on racial justice is decidedly not “woke”, as the Internet likes to say. While Cuba’s legacy of racism predates Castro, it’s safe to say overt racism against individuals of African ancestry there remains far more pronounced than it is in the United States. In fact, racism is kind of an unstated official policy: “State-posts, government jobs, or positions in the tourism industry are often allocated on the basis of skin color. Take a look at the top office holders in Cuba. See any black faces there? No,” Mediaite’s AJ Delgado wrote.

Earlier this year, as the White House was normalizing relations with Cuba, the New York Times declared “Cuba Says It Has Solved Racism. Obama Isn’t So Sure.” Obama even addressed the topic of Cuban racism explicitly during his historic visit. But there’s no evidence Obama used his leverage to extract any meaningful reforms to address the issue.

The fact remains that the Cuban government doesn’t deal with racism, because to talk openly about it would be to admit that Cuba’s not the socialist paradise it’s cracked up to be. But don’t take my word for it—Cuban editor Roberto Zurbano wrote an illuminating article about Cuban racism that was translated and published in the New York Times three years ago:

Is anyone surprised?: Baltimore Tourist Says Racism Exists in Cuba



Myra Queen, who knows what discrimination looks like having grown up in a segregated section of Baltimore during the 1950s and ‘60s, said she saw subtle patterns of racism play out during a recent trip to Cuba.

Queen, 66, said she noticed during her weeklong trip that most of the staff waiting on her in restaurants were White. So were the people behind the counter at her hotel, despite the island’s large Black population.

Jeffrey Smith of California who was also on the trip, observed that Afro Cubans are almost invisible on the island, saying they are seen, but not necessarily heard.

“It just harkens back to the ‘60s when we were cooking and cleaning in hotels and not given management positions,” Smith, 55, said.

Queen and Smith were part of a 23-member group that was in Cuba from June 4-11, thanks to a cultural exchange through Morgan State University. DeWayne Wickham, founding dean of the university’s School of Global Journalism and Communication, takes Black journalists, students and professionals to the island twice a year to learn about Afro Cubans and their connection to Black Americans.

Wickham, formerly a USA Today syndicated columnist, has arranged the trips through his Institute for Advanced Journalism Studies since 2000. He said the mainstream media wasn’t covering Afro Cubans and their issues to his satisfaction, so he took matters into his own hands.

“It’s important to take Black journalists to Cuba because the stories we find are the stories that too often seem to be ignored [and] overlooked by White journalists when they get there,” Wickham said. “It’s not mean spirited, it’s that their life experiences don’t drive them toward those stories.”

Several members of the delegation talked about racism on the island with Esteban Morales Domínguez, a leading Afro-Cuban intellectual and Nancy Morejón, an Afro-Cuban poet, essayist and critic.

Domínguez, author of “Race in Cuba: Essays of the Revolution and Racial Equality,” called racism a cultural problem that many people deny exists.

He said he is trying to push the Cuban government to compile and release a list of employees in the island’s lucrative tourism industry by race and by job. Domínguez compiled a 2008 report for the Cuban government that showed between 62 percent and 72 percent of the island’s 11 million population was Black. But his report also revealed that the overwhelming majority of scientists, civic and public leaders and professors at the University of Havana were White.

Tourism is an important cash cow for Cuba. A record-setting 3.5 million tourists visited the island in 2015, according to a report from the Congressional Research Service. Growth from American visitors to the once-forbidden island is expected to keep growing as well. Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Transportation approved regularly scheduled flights for six U.S. airlines to several Cuban cities — routes to Havana will be announced later on this summer. The service, expected to begin this fall, follows policy changes President Barack Obama announced at the end of 2014 that ease travel and trade restrictions to the island.

Travel and tourism accounted for 494,500 jobs on the island or nearly 10 percent of total employment in 2014, a report from the World Travel and Tourism Council stated. However, Domínguez contends that Blacks in the tourism industry are relegated to jobs in the kitchen and in housekeeping—away from tourists. Management positions and other important jobs within that industry usually go to Whites, he said.

“We must erase this difficulty inside the population,” Domínguez said. “Blacks and Whites must have the same opportunity.”

Cuban officials did not respond to AFRO requests for comment.

Racial issues are very delicate subjects on the island, and the effects of centuries of colonialism and slavery still remain, Morejón said. However, Morejón takes exception to outsiders criticizing Cuba.

She singled out Cornel West, who with 59 other Black American intellectuals signed a statement in 2010 that was critical of the communist Cuban government. The group denounced what they said was the Cuban government’s increased civil and human rights violations against Black activists who speak out against racism.

Morejón dubbed West a “victim of a great campaign against the Cuban government.”

“Cuba is not a paradise at all,” Morejón added. “But Cuba is not hell.