SOULS CFP: [Black] Cuban Revolutionaries Today

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Special Issue Call for Papers

[Black] Cuban Revolutionaries Today


Special Issue Editor:

Lisa Brock (Kalamazoo College)


80-year-old Commandante Victor Dreke fought at the Bay of Pigs, was second in command to Che Guevara in the Congo and exchanged military strategy with Amílcal Cabral in Guinea Bissau. He served as an ambassador to Equatorial Guinea in West Africa and today is president of the Cuba-Africa Friendship Association. He is a socialist and he is black and in many ways his life represents the Black Cuban Revolutionary experience of the highest order. He is, rightfully, to everyday Cubans and the state, a national hero.

This issue of Souls will examine the Black Cuban Revolutionary experience from the making of the Cuban Revolution, which was Victor Dreke’s generation, to today. What has it meant over time and what does it mean now? For many in Dreke’s generation to use the term “Black” when discussing the Cuban revolution was seen as problematic, which is why it is in brackets. After all, the early revolution argued that racism had been eradicated. And indeed, if using a class-based analysis alone, this made sense. Cubans of color did gain equal rights to healthcare, education, employment and housing (unlike anything seen anywhere in the Americas) and they were proud. Moreover, the African heritage of the Island was publically embraced and the Island’s support for African Liberation Movements, especially in Angola, was a sign of this. This kind of open state acceptance of the Americas’ tie to Africa was also a first in the hemisphere.

And yet, the impact of hundreds of years of enslavement, and colonial and neo-colonial racial capitalism was not as easy to eradicate as the Cuban’s had hoped. Clearly, the revolution worried that any talk of racial difference might disrupt the required unity that the Island needed to fend off United States aggression. But given the historic power and continued international agency of white supremacy, to not address the super structural tentacles of racism from colorism (lighter skin is better) to culture (black culture is less civilized) to beauty (straight hair is more attractive than nappy hair) to historical importance (Europe contributed more to political and intellectual history than Africa) is actually to tacitly allow it to continue. Eduardo Bonilla–Silva has called this “colorblind” racism; Devyn Spence Benson has called it in Cuba, “raceless nationalism.” It is important to note that while the revolution understood the necessity to continue to fight for women, youth and workers through mass organizations, it chose not to have a mass (multi-racial) organization with which to fight racism. Thus, many whites continued to hold racist ideas that were never challenged.

Thus, when Fidel stated at the Third-Party Congress in 1986 and at the Riverside Church in New York City in 2000, that they had failed to solve the problem of racism in Cuba, it was a sign that there needed to be much more work done inside the revolution to tackle this. He said in 2000:

I am not claiming that our country is a perfect model of equality and justice. At the beginning, we believed that when we established full equality before the law…. [sexism and racist phenomena] would vanish from our society. It was sometime before we discovered that marginalization and racial discrimination are not things that one gets rid of with a law or even with ten laws, we have not managed to eliminate them completely, even in 40 years.

While this was a significant admission, Fidel in both speeches suggests that the problem is largely a representational and material one, and does not address racism’s ideological and cultural character as well. José Luciano Franco wrote clearly of this problem in pre-revolutionary Cuba in his seminal 1961 classic, Afro-America and according to many Cubans today, one sees racial “networks” occurring in hiring practices, media choices, and educational textbooks. This is becoming even more astute as Cuba unveils a new mixed economy, in which some will have more access to resources than others. The reality is this: one cannot get to the root of a problem, if one cannot engage in meaningful and rigorous discourse on it.

This issue of Souls intends to address this issue in numerous ways. What has it meant, and does it mean to be a [Black] Cuban revolutionary? We also seek essays which look at how the early revolution handled race, and black revolutionary thought, and what it has done since. In addition, how have revolutionaries taken different positions on this question over time?  There are now movements and groups that center the experiences of Afro-descendants whose purpose it is to tackle the racial problem. What have been their goals and how have they measured success? What has been the role of Hip Hop, film, African religions, and educational institutions?  How has the US blockade and US aggression impacted this discussion in Cuba; and how do different lenses, such as that from African-Americans, complicate and problematize this question? In addition, what has been the impact of the hundreds of thousands of Cubans that fought in and have worked in Africa on their sense of race? We seek essays, which address these types of questions in ideological, pedagogical, sociological, and political and cultural ways.




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Please address questions to: Marco Roc, Souls Managing Editor,