Africans in Cuba

Out of the Clouds: Remarks on ‘anti-Blackness’ in Cuba

Salifu Mack speaks on anti-Blackness in Cuba at Defending Our Americas: Building Resistance to Imperialism and Militarism panel at the Harriet Tubman Center for Social Justice in Los Angeles on June 5, 2022

Transcript

Wassup y’all. I had to set a timer because my comrades have better notes than I do. I want to talk to you for a little bit. My name is Salifu. I’m a member of Black Alliance for Peace. I’m from Charleston, South Carolina. I’m also a member of the All African People’s Revolutionary Party. And I want to talk to you a little bit about one of my least favorite games that the U.S. plays, because the US plays a lot of games. 

One of the things that the United States does is try to combat liberation struggles in places outside of the United States, and those are games that the State Department likes to play. It weaponizes this thing they call ‘anti-Blackness’ against foreign countries. And so in order for me to talk about anti-Blackness and what this thing is and how we should be thinking about it, I want us to remember that when we talk about anti-Blackness (when I talk about it), I’m talking about anti-Black racism. Racism is born of colonization. Let’s start there. You have to be able to analyze things scientifically to deal with them. Racism is born of colonization. Therefore, to eliminate racism you must eliminate colonization. 

A few months ago, we saw uprisings take off in Cuba and U.S. media got horny to start talking about, “Black people who are suffering. And that is why we should not support lifting the blockade.” And some of us fell for it. A lot of us fell for it. We got distracted and started asking, “Well, what they doing? What happened to the Black people?” Knowing [they] don’t give a damn about Black people in the U.S. to begin with, but here we are concerning ourselves with this phenomenon called “anti-Blackness”. And when we hear it, it’s all mystifying. It’s magical. You can’t pin it down, you don’t know where it comes from, you don’t know how to solve it because it’s “in the ether”; this anti-Blackness. Right? But when I talk about anti-Blackness, I’m talking about anti-Black racism. 

The Cuban Revolution is a decolonial project aimed at systemically eliminating racism from the society. So when you talk about Cuba, when you talk about African people in Cuba, you are talking about people who have participated actively – led three revolutions to this point – to change their conditions. They are in a much more sophisticated phase of revolutionary struggle than we can begin to ever understand here in the U.S. 

The U.S. and Cuba are not two nations that share similar histories. I’m going to give you an example of how this is demonstrated. In a province in Cuba called Matanzas, there is a historic site called the San Severino Castle. It’s a museum now. It is collectively owned by Africans and people who identify as Cubans. This is a longer thing that I want to get into, but Cubans internalize Africa in their heart. And it’s not something that Americans do even though Africa is as essential to building this nation as it was to building Cuba. Americans, U.S. citizens, do not think of Africa in the same way that Cuban citizens do.

But the history of this castle is that it was originally used to house enslaved Africans who were being brought to build Cuba. And then that same castle was used as a tool for holding Cuban patriots who were fighting the revolutionary war against Spain. So this location [in Cuba] has this shared history of struggle between Africans and non-Africans in the country — we have no such site in the United States. And to this day, that castle is owned and collectively owned by Africans in Cuba who have turned it into an art museum. And it was a decision that they made to tell the story of the castle and to share that space with their non-African comrades because they understand the Cuban revolution to be a shared project of Africans and non-African people. We have no such site in the United States. 

The other thing that I want to talk about in regards to this thing about anti-Blackness (because I really want us to be able to think scientifically about this thing and how the United States and State Department are trying to weaponize emotions and this psychological operation against us to get us to not defend our comrades in countries like Cuba), in Cuba, there’s an organization that’s called the Red Barrial Afrodescendiente. It is a grassroots organization created by Africans in Cuba who see themselves as Black, who see themselves as Afro-descendent. African people. And what the Red Barrial Afrodescendiente does — Cuba is a nation that is struggling under crippling sanctions like some nations could never even imagine. 60 years worth of a genocidal blockade. Cuba is a state that is run by the people, but it is struggling when it comes to resources. And so sometimes the state that is run by the people can not always immediately fulfill all the needs that the country has. Red Barrial Afrodescendiente, is an organization on a grassroots level that is organized block by block in historically predominantly African neighborhoods in Cuba to try to address those needs when it comes to medication [and] when it comes to food. They recently completed a social cartography project. They felt that the state was not doing the best job in recognizing historical sites. So they went out and, location by location, created their own map, their own guidebook to understanding historically important locations in Cuba. That guide, that cartography project, was being taken up by the state and implemented into the state. When Africans in the United States organize projects like that, the state does not recognize us. We cannot relate, at all, to that kind of experience. So I want us to be very clear about what we’re talking about when we talk about anti-Blackness. Right? 

Again, anti-Black racism. Racism is born out of colonization. In order to eliminate racism, you must fight colonization. Here in the states, one of the things that we do, we are very invested in our “anti-racist” projects. We are very, very invested in our “anti-racist” education. That is great! But until we fight colonization those projects will never be successful. Another thing that the Red Barrial Afrodescendiente does is that they train a network of popular educators. We have so much to learn from our comrades in the Global South. If we can begin to see our comrades in the Global South as a teacher instead of people who need to be saved.

So what the Red Barrial Afrodescendiente does is train everyday people to become popular educators to combat anti-Black racist attitudes in Cuban society. Because remember, racism is not baked into the structure of Cuba as a society. But those attitudes? They still exist on an individual level. The Africans in the Red Barrial see it as a part of their job to advance the revolution by fighting racism. They are working within the revolution to take it further because they understand if they fail to eliminate racism in Cuba, the Cuban project is always going to be at risk. It will always be exploited by colonizer nations like the United States. This is fundamentally different than what Africans in the United States are doing. We are organizing to end the United States. We are organizing to fundamentally revamp, re-gear, retool what this thing could even look like. They are organizing to sustain a revolution. So I want us to be clear about that because the victim thing that we do — Africans in Cuba do not see themselves as people who need to be saved by people who don’t understand their predicament. 

The last thing that I want to say about this (because this applies to Cuba, this applies to Nicaragua, this applies to Venezuela, this applies to Haiti), don’t be distracted by conversations of arbitrary mythological, ethereal ‘anti-Blackness’. Always remember to come back to the material condition. What is the material scientific force that drives this thing? If someone is trying to engage you in a conversation about anti-Blackness and why you, as somebody who is working on organizing in the Global [North], should not be supporting anti-colonial struggle in the Global South, always remember there is nothing more anti-Black than sanctions. There is nothing more anti-Black than not allowing a nation like Haiti (that should be sovereign) to determine its own affairs. There’s nothing more anti-Black than the blockade on Cuba. Because the blockade of Cuba disproportionately affects the Africans that live there not as a design of the apparatus of the Cuban state, but as a design of the way that capitalist economies work. No matter how successfulyl your socialist project works in the global economy, which is still largely capitalist, sanctions are always designed to affect and impact the most vulnerable people in any given population. 

So understand that until the blockade is lifted on Cuba, you as a Global North organizer, you as somebody that claims to stand in solidarity with people in Latin America and the Caribbean, your job is to end the sanctions first and foremost. That is where you focus on anti-Blackness. You take it out of the clouds and you bring it back to the material conditions.


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Salifu Mack is a Pan African socialist and member of the Black Alliance for Peace, the AAPRP, and the Lowcountry Action Committee, which is a Black-led grassroots organization dedicated to Black liberation through service, political education, and collective action in the Lowcountry of South Carolina. Follow us on IG to support our work: @LCTakesAction