Sunday, December 26, 2004

Race and Racism

In this issue of race and racism I am in a very weird position, because - as you both may have noticed -, I'm a black Hispanic, and I received racism from every direction: from African Americans, from Hispanics -my in laws included, so you get the picture-, and from white Americans who think that I'm a compilation of problems: black, Hispanic, woman, and with an accent ;-) !
However, as weird as this may seem, I discovered racism when I steeped in this country, because Cuba it's a very strange place in which, although I was really poor, I had access to the best schools, the education was great and free, and I have never put on a paper what color I was, however, I attended the University of Havana, and got in the most contested career. With me, there were people of every color, who, like me, never had to mention their color of skin.
This is not to say that Cuba isn't a racist place, this is to say that the system works in a way in which you are never faced with the issue -this is changing now for the worst, in many respects, and the economic crises has to do with it, too, but that would be too long to explain here-.
When I got to this country, I started to feel the racism, mainly in the Cuban community in Miami -which is horrible-, and then in the rest of the society, and even though it has not affected me in a personal level, I'm committed to this fight with all I have got, because I can't believe how black people are in such a bad shape in the richest country on Earth.
All that said, I have to say that I understand that someone does not see the problems with racism or he could not read racism when is disguised as a mere objective analysis. This actually was probably the problem for me, because if you asked me 7 years ago what I was, probably the last thing I would say would be black, because that did not even form part of my identity back then. It is now, because it is a fighting identity, not because I see anything in particular in me that makes me much different from anyone else of any race.
I remember when I started to struggle with this issue, as with the issue of gender, I used to quote, and now will paraphrase, the character Sabina, from The Unbearable Lightness of Being, by Milan Kundera: being black, and being a woman are for me a fate I have not chose. What has not been chose by ourselves can not be considered a merit or a failure. I'm not proud, neither ashamed of being black, woman, heterosexual, or Cuban, and I guess we will keep being in trouble as long as we could find pride or shame on being something we did not chose. As science is every day proving with more clarity, race is a fake concept, something society created for the purposes of distinction, and there is nothing in biology that supports it. However, it does not mean is a fiction, since it does have real consequences on people's lives.
Sometimes, people do not confront the issue of race because it does not affect them directly or even indirectly, and they are not even racist, but just have the idea that the issue of race is so clear for everybody now, that it could move away from the front burner, however, that's not the case. Jim does not have a personal implication with the problem, so I would certainly doubt that someone as open as he is would be racist, but just the problems that claims such as the ones made by The Bell Curve would pose for Maryam or for myself are not the first ones that come to Jim's mind when he is analyzing the issue.
Specifically that book, that I consider certainly very ill intentioned - so much so as Hungtinton's Foreign Policy: The Hispanic Challenge: "The Hispanic Challenge"-, made me think of something: what if, actually, by keeping black people in the impoverished conditions they are now, and with the worst schools one could ever desire, we are impeding their development, mentally, and physically, and therefore maintaining and IQ lower that the average? There have been clear evidence of the importance of old fashioned things such as good food, body movement, and conducive environment in mind development. Also, there is now a clear link between breastfeeding and mind development, however, the African American community has the lower rates of breastfeeding.
This issue is a long one, and we are now seeing how the Bush administration managed to use identity politics to implement the most unitarian, and reactionary policies ever, by creating a very "diverse" cabinet, of people that may be black or Hispanic, but have nothing to do with the people that live in Anacostia, or in Wheaton. That's the problem of maintaining the importance of race: for me race has no meaning, because it's just a divisive issue, that could be clearly used against us all, and blacks in particular.
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