Even after decades of U.S. sanctions, Cuba may have the least inequality between Black and white people of any place in the Western hemisphere but Afro-Cubans still lag behind whites in wealth and access, and unconcealed racism is still dominant there.
The island nation moved to close the racial inequality gap after the 1959 coup that installed Fidel Castro as its leader. Castro abolished segregation and gave all Cubans access to free education and healthcare.
Before 1959, education was largely a white privilege and off-limits to Blacks people and mestizos. Black people were shut out of universities and jobs that involved interacting with customers. Whites had their own social clubs, beaches and private parties.
“Cuba actually has the least inequality. And that’s largely due to socialism—which I’m sure no one wants to hear,” said Nikole Hannah-Jones, Pulitzer Prize-winning creator of the 1619 Project founder, in a New York Post interview.
She added that “Cuba has the least inequality between Black and white people of any place in the hemisphere.”
Not everyone agrees with Hannah-Jones’ views. The 1619 Project has become a lightning rod for conservatives and is credited with reframing U.S. history 400 years after the first slave ship arrived in the Virginia colony by taking a critical look at slavery and acknowledging the contributions of Black Americans to the building of the country.
Daniel Middleman, whose Twitter bio identifies him as a Christian conservative fighting against radical left anti-Christian babykilling Nazis, tweeted that Hannah-Jones was a “Trained Marxist”. Mercedes Schlapp, a senior fellow for the American Conservative Union, suggested she “go to Cuba and stay in Cuba”.
“The anti-American factions in our own country fail to understand the horrors of Communism,” Schlapp tweeted.
Most Caribbean countries have a small white population and their governments are run by Black people. Cuba is an exception. It is one of the countries with the least biracial government in the Caribbean, comprised largely of whites.
According to the most recent census data from 2012, Cuba claims to have three racial categories: white (64 percent), Black (9 percent) and mixed-race (27 percent mixed African and European).
The count could contain discrepancies since Cuban scholars have said they believe that the government undercounts non-white Cubans.
Cuba has a problematic history of racism but the notion that racism cannot exist in a country with a large population of mixed-race people has been disproved.
A recent study of inequality in Cuba revealed there are still areas of segregation. These include access to the internet. About 70 percent of Black and mixed-race Cubans said they did not have access, compared with 25 percent of white Cubans.
In terms of the racial wealth gap, 50 percent of white Cubans have a banking account, while only 11 percent of Black Cubans say they have one. Moreover, white Cubans control 98 percent of private companies and receive 78 percent of remittances sent there.
The Cuban government denies the existence of differential treatment and access to services for different races. Despite the government’s refusal to acknowledge it, unconcealed racism is still dominant in Cuba.
A common joke on the Island nation is “she is Black but has good hair.”
Inequality also extends to the tourism sector, where there has been a discussion in the country over the decades about the preference of hotels and other tourist venues for hiring mostly white Cubans in order to attract white tourists.
Racist stereotypes assume that Afro-Cubans are dirty, unattractive, prone to criminal activities and lack proper manners and education.
Despite instances of inequality, most Black Cubans say they would rather have the socialist government in power than interference from outside. The U.S. has used sanctions and propaganda against Cuba for decades.
“Black Cubans especially are wary of outsiders wishing to overthrow the Castro regime,” Hannah-Jones wrote in a 2008 op-ed in The Oregonian titled “The Cuba we don’t know”.
“They admit the revolution has been imperfect, but it also led to the end of codified racism and brought universal education and access to jobs to Black Cubans. Without the revolution, they wonder, where would they be?”
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