Red Barrial Afrodescendiente, from grassroots communities in anti-racist awareness
By Maritza López McBean
Translated by: Cindy García, Maxine Nwigwe, and Devon Severson
Objective: To expose the Red Barrial Afrodescendiente’s anti-racist awareness actions in different Havana neighborhoods in a simple and eloquent way.
Summary: The Red Barrial Afrodescendiente Contra el Racismo y la Discriminación Racial (RBA) was founded in Havana in 2012. Initially, it was coordinated by three Afrocubana social activists and popular educators. Through its work, the RBA has articulated with intellectuals and academics who socialize their knowledge and research in a language that is accessible to people of various educational levels who attend. These people are residents of nine neighborhoods in Havana, one neighborhood in the city of Matanzas, and a Baptist Church in Marianao. People of various religious expressions participate. This is one of the aspects that distinguishes the result of their work in the face of anti-racist awareness, in addition to their experience in capacity building- developing popular education techniques that favor learning among people who approach the RBA.
Key Words: Red Barrial Afrodescendiente, Racism, Racial Discrimination, Experiences, Community Work.
In the first five years of work, the RBA promoted a process of sistematicización, creating a working team with people who frequently attended the training spaces. La sistematización is a participatory process where each person contributes from their knowledge and perception about the RBA. It favors a deeper understanding of the practice in order to improve it, strengthens capacities in the organization, updates training and capacity-building needs, enriches activities, and promotes greater levels of exchange. The process documents the results and shares learning with similar experiences for the appropriation of learning influenced by the RBA and substantiating its relevance in the current Cuban context.
In addition to sensitizing themselves, the members of the RBA selected topics related to different categories based on the responses of the participants and the relevance to the rights of Afrodescendiente. These were:
- The Motivation to attend the activities.
- The Contents, the knowledge acquired in the training activities.
- The Aprendizajes, the changes in conceptions and personal or family attitudes with respect to racist behavior.
- The Methodology, the methods employed.
- The Relevance, the analysis of policies and laws about the rights of lxs Afrodescendientes regarding the exercise of rights and the relation to the work of the RBA.
The sistematización later made it possible to expand the members of the coordination. It is good to note that the social activism is done completely voluntarily and they do not receive remuneration.
The RBA and the Cuban Context
The Constitution of the Red Barrial Afrodescendiente (RBA) on November 30, 2012 responded to the Cuban Ministry of Culture’s creation of the Articulación Regional Afrodescendiente in its Capítulo Cubano (ARACC). This event could seem audacious to some- something different or something novel, especially if we take into account the admission of something as painful as racial discrimination in the Cuban context. It is difficult to accept that even in Cuban society, racial discriminaton manifests itself from different ways, even though it has been conceived as eliminated since the revolutionary process began in 1959. There are still people who do not even perceive it, others who are ashamed to admit it, and others who simply do not accept it.
Although race is a sociocultural construct and the concept of race is anti-scientific from the anthropological point of view, still in our country, many people are still valued on the basis of skin color. The terms Black and Mulatto continue to be weighted with historical, cultural, social, and economic connotations. There are very precise racial ones, expressed in social stereotypes that influence – and sometimes determine – the position that each person occupies within the socioeconomic structure of the country. The social representations linked to skin color affect individual and collective self-esteem, and they have a strong impact on the value applied to cultural creations. For example, many of the jokes about skin color are naturalized, reaffirming the constructed stereotype associating non-white color with the bad, the negative, something that is always taken as less. The jobs with the highest economic remuneration are generally held by white people, especially those in tourism where these people appear only in service positions; and the businesses of self-employed workers are mostly led by white people.
The equality and social justice policies developed with the triumph of the Cuban Revolution emphasized the elimination of all types of discrimination in the country in the official discourse. The policies generated the idea that these problems had been eradicated, even though culturally1Culture is understood here as the matrix of conceptions, values, habits and customs that people and human groups carry. they continued to be present and had a particularly strong presence in personal and family relationships. For almost four decades, the problem in question did not transcend academic debates or social communication media. Talking about the presence of discrimination based on skin color became a “private” topic. The crisis of the 90’s, called the “Periodo Especial,” in some cases opened, and deepened in others, the gaps between sectors of society. Social inequalities were made more visible among Black and Mulatto families with very depressed socioeconomic conditions because equal opportunity policies in all areas did not succeed in taking the different starting points that existed in society into account.
In the current cultural conjuncture, openly racist expressions loaded with symbolic violence have once again emerged, ranging from an insolent look, song lyrics, soap opera characters, humorous programs, television series, jokes, sayings, etc. It is worth noting that they are manifested in all places in La Habana of today and are also present in various scientific and professional fields. With these attitudes, an essential part of the dignity of black people continues to be stolen; each racist joke or jest, inappropriate exclusion or inclusion, causes discomfort. Although there are mechanisms for reporting, most of the time they become individual actions of complaints or silent protests.
This situation becomes more critical for Black women, the majority of whom are heads of household with limitations for their mobility in the workplace. There are frequent pregnancies in adolescents (high rate of early pregnancy), and there is also the reproduction of some gendered patterns such as the pluripaternidad of the children of single mothers.2Siblings who share the same mother and have different fathers. The situation also exists for women who serve as cheap labor in domestic jobs, working in the service of families with high economic capital with low cultural and social capital, (the so-called new rich), or, in the service of families with high economic, cultural and social capital. According to the psychologist Patricia Ares, they suffer “the exploitation of women by women.”
Policies have not succeeded in favoring these Black women. When compared with the so-called “new rich” group and with white women from the same social class group, they show very slow and limited social mobility. Undoubtedly, they head the feminization of poverty in Cuba. These racialized valuations have their impact in various scopes of social reality. For example, failure to comply with the hegemonically imposed aesthetic model results in, on many occasions, the impossibility of being employed in activities with requirements related to physical appearance. This happens despite the existence of laws, including in the Constitution, that stipulate equal rights for all people independent of skin color.
As part of the violence suffered by Black women and families, the manipulation and disrespectful use of their bodies in music videos and the publicity designed for the tourism sector is common – the image of the black woman acquires a degree of objectification every time it is shown as an object of desire. On the other hand, there is the striking over-representation in television programs where Black women appear playing roles that reproduce situations of social disadvantage and victimization. They are absent in the protagonistic roles and infrequent in roles that show their talents and training. All of this contributes to the banalization and commercialization of Afrocubanas and their families.
The RBA is anticapitalist and counterhegemonic. It speaks out against homophobia, lesbophobia or other forms of discrimination. It supports its actions in the conception and methodology of popular education, and insists on a socialist option. Our speech is not animated by hatred, nor does it claim to divide society; ours is a message of love that emphasizes its labor in the awareness toward anti-Black racism in the people who are inserted in the neighborhoods where the network is present.
After the systematization process, one of the suggested topics was to expand the coordination by locating important roles for the continuity of the work. People who systematically had a committed participation were taken into account, almost all with a defined leadership aligned with the RBA.
The purpose of the RBA coordinating team is to promote the recognition and social appreciation of Afrodescendent people. They share spaces for dialogue, reflections, and social activism around the racial phenomenon. These spaces raise awareness of racist and sexist stereotypes as well as old and new forms of racial discrimination. The trainings build methods, proposals, and tools to confront racial discrimination and its dismantling.
The Coordination also generates community processes that enhance the leadership of neighborhood leaders, stimulating the development of community initiatives and projects with leadership in Afrodescendientes. They are managed from the principles of the social solidarity economy, which allow them address inequalities due to skin color in their link with other inequalities, fundamentally of gender, territory, and economic income.
This group, attending to their different experiences, (as its name suggests), provides auxiliary assistance in coordination according to the needs that arise in the context.
Initiatives, Experiences, and Projects
The difference between interactuado and acercado consists in that in some of these experiences, their leaders and some of their membership have participated in training, have become aware of anti-racism, and have strengthened their knowledge on the issues. The dates are related to the moment in which they approached the RBA, interacting one with another until the present. Others only approached the RBA for specific topics of interest and are not necessarily part of the network. Independently to them having their own autonomy, they do not compete with each other because in addition to the uniqueness of each one, the common bond continues to be anti-racist awareness.
Motivations to Belong to the RBA Network Expressed During the Systematization Process
Some of the motivations expressed by people who come to the different RBA training spaces:
- To learn, to add my grain of sand about what I know about discrimination, I’m Black and I want to be here.
- To learn, contribute to my co-workers, and gain experience on the subject of discrimination.
- My racial and citizen commitment grew, I owe a debt to the Red Barrial Afrodescendiente, and to feel that is unavoidable.
- I felt the commitment to something concrete with the community and the issue was very diluted and disappeared from the agendas.
- I attend because it is necessary to identify racism and racial discrimination.
- You have to get out of a closed circle.
- I have enjoyed participating and sharing with communities.
- In order to sensitize diverse actors.
- It is necessary to transfer this knowledge to the community.
- Publication entitled “Afrobarriando, Experiencias Comunitarias” (2014) whose first issue, supported by the Grupo de reflexión y solidaridad “Oscar Arnulfo Romero,” addresses community experiences. It refers to the process of creating the RBA and its different articles invite us to reflect on important themes such as: La discriminación racial en la historia by Daisy Rubiera Castillo; El miedo al negro y la imagen creada by Lázaro Gregorio Jarosay Bosque and María Josefa Villalón Fernández; Relaciones de Mestizaje by Daisy Rubiera Castillo; Una mirada al Proyecto ¨Punto de vista del Nuevo Negro¨ by Gustavo Urrutia Queiros; Mujeres Negras y Mulatas en la economía de servicios de La Habana Colonial (Siglos XVI – XVII) by Oilda Hevia Lanier; Breve Acercamiento al Conocimiento sobre la realización del Derecho en Cuba, 1492 – 2014 by Rolando Zulueta Zulueta.
- Publication of the pamphlet of the RBA in: Derechos en Movimiento. Buenas Prácticas desde La Habana, 2016.
- Attract the presence of intellectuals committed to the communities where, in an affective exchange, they have transmitted their knowledge to participants in the meetings through a pleasant and accessible language.
- High convening power in the neighborhoods where the RBA unfolds.
- Influencing changes and behaviors in members and other people who come closer to our daily work has been achieved.
- Personal growth and self-esteem expressed from those who participate in the training processes.
- Recognition of the work of the RBA by different Institutions related to the study of and research on race, particularly the insertion in the Comisión Aponte de la Unión de Escritores y Artistas de Cuba (UNEAC).
Events In Which The Work of the RBA Has Been Present
- International meeting of psychology “Hominis 2014.”
- Organization and Participation in the Colloquium: “Aniversario de la Fundación de la Ciudad de la Habana, Casa Comunitaria, Paulo Freire. Balcón Arimao. Habana. 2012 – 2019.
- Social Media Panel. FLACSO – Cuba. Casa del Alba. Habana.2018.
- Evento Internacional. Orígenes. Matanzas. Cuba.2015.
- Harvard. Simposio “Afrodescendientes: Quince años después de Santiago. Logros y desafíos”. 2015.
- II Simposio, Después de Santiago 2000. El Movimiento Afrodescendiente y los estudios Afro latinoamericanos. Evento Cartagena de Indias. 2016.
- International Meeting. Harvard. 2017.
- Seminario Internacional de Identidad Y Movilizaciones Colectivas Instituto de Investigación Juan Marinello. La Habana. Cuba.2017.
- Paradigmas Emancipatorios. 2015, 2016, 2017.
- Participation and Support for the days for NO Violence against women. 2015 – 2017.
- Participation in the Jornadas de Lucha contra la Homofobia, 2016 – 2017.
- Feria Internacional del Libro. 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018.
- 1ra Convención Internacional de Ciencia, Tecnología e Innovación. Palacio de las Convenciones. Habana. Cuba.2018.
- Intercambio sobre Género y Educación Popular. Fundación Nelson Mandela. Suráfrica, 2018.
- Casa de África. Habana. Festival AFROPALABRA.2019.
- 10 Coloquio y Festival Internacional de Música y Poesía Nicolás Guillen, Casa de África. Habana. Cuba.2019.
- VII Conferencia Internacional “Mujer, Genero Derecho”. Hotel Habana Libre.2019.
- Centro de Reflexión y dialogo: 1ra y 2da edición del Coloquio – Taller, ¨La nación que estamos imaginando (nuevas geografías de la racialidad negra en Cuba)
- Event of Exchange about Afrodescendientes. Argentina 2019.
- Evento Teórico Internacional Crisol de la Nacionalidad. Bayamo. Cuba.2019.
- 1 Er Congreso Afrodescendientes Latinoamérica y El Caribe. Venezuela 2019
- Meeting against Neoliberalism. Venezuela 2020.
The social environment of our communities in the face of COVID-19 revealed the weaknesses, strengths, and vulnerabilities in our daily lives, especially in our enduring commitment to social activism, in which we are involved as a group of leaders and leading neighborhoods.
Historically, since colonization, our Afro populations have had the worst social stratum, with its characteristic variations in each era. In parallel, these situations have had responses from which they are still adopted today, such as access to anti-racist awareness that the RBA promotes. Lamentably, the perception of the racial phenomenon is not the same for everyone. There is even a world that does not know it, and another that knows it, but does not want the problem of knowing about it as part of the naturalization of everyday racism. Citizen participation has three elements that we like to take into account: knowing, wanting and being able, especially for those of us in our Cuban neighborhoods who have decided, (and not just the RBA), to participate in el proyecto socialista Cubano since the revolution. The creation of a Programa Gubernamental Nacional as of November 2019 puts forth a space to articulate different strategies in a Programa Nacional that has called on the different Ministerios in the definition of public policies and affirmative actions against racial discrimination. They also add that institutions and social activism should be involved.
Cuba, in the midst of this environment, has shown historical commitment to medical internationalism. It has kept the pandemic firmly under control within its limits, thanks to a nationwide public health system that guarantees equitable access at all levels and privileges community-level prevention over reactive emergency measures. According to the national press these days, not only is the ratio of medical professionals to patients in Cuba three times higher than in the United States, but also the La Escuela Latinoamericana de Medicina (ELAM) has trained, in a span of two decades, more than 35,000 doctors and other healthcare professionals from 138 countries, including the US, free of charge. The only obligation is to commit to practicing medicine in low-income and underserved communities. Pharmaceutical products have been requested by several countries. More than 20 medical brigades carry out an internationalist mission; among them including extremely qualified Afrodecendiente healthcare professionals.
During the pandemic, daily information is offered to the Cuban people not only from Cuba but from other contexts around the world, which allows us to ponder other realities. Due to the United States’ continuous blockade of Cuba, the arrival of international resources to confront COVID-19 was prevented.
In the City of La Habana, given the epidemiological situation, as in other parts of the country, they promoted measures such as the use of masks and the organization of queues or lines for the acquisition of food products and basic necessities. These measures were not always effective, especially for the population with less economic power, the majority among them Afro.
|While it is true that historically for Afrodescendientes the problem with the pandemic is exacerbated taking into account our vulnerability and living conditions that affect people of African descent in particular, it is important to underline the need to address the challenges of racism, discrimination, and avoid growing indicators of social inequality.|
We therefore prefer to mention the actions and links in which many of the experiences, initiatives, and projects have been carried out in relation with the RBA.
- The conjunction of two groups, ASERE (Académicos, Intelectuales, Investigadores y Trabajadores residentes fuera de Cuba) and the RBA (Red Barrial Afrodescendiente en La Habana, Contra el Racismo y la Discrimination Racial), we created the Group’s Facebook: ASERE / Red Barrial Afrodescendiente. This was a response to COVID-19 and a way to mitigate social isolation.
- Even with the rudimentary telephone means with which we have, the creation and use of WhatsApp groups, and Messenger has allowed the frequent approach of both the Coordination of the network, Las Experiencias Cercanas, as well as in the relationship with groups and organizations inside and outside of Cuba.
- New contacts were established in social networks with Afrodescendiente Latin American and Caribbean organizations and networks.
- Some members offered support in the daily investigation carried out by public health; others were active in the various command posts set up by the government.
- Social assistance is provided in the delivery of medicines and other procedures to the elderly in a state of social vulnerability.
- There are those who took advantage of the modality of work at home due to situations of family vulnerability (minors and seniors in their care in their homes) as direct support to their families.
- Increased telephone communication has contributed to mitigating the isolation, especially with older adults, to whom it brings psychological support.
- The checking and control of the measures directed by Cuban public health is being followed.
- It has oriented itself to follow the measures directed by Cuban public health, regarding the use of hypochlorite, frequent hand washing, and staying at home as long as possible, just to mention a few.
- The Coordination makes encouraging phone calls to the experiences (La Muñeca Negra, Vísteme con Gusto, Afrodiverso, Casa Tomada mirArte) that create masks, uniforms, and camisoles for the support personnel in the hospitals, maintaining the principle of the social solidarity economy as women entrepreneurs. Since not all experiences have cell phones or internet access, these contacts are made by landline.
- The work with non-heteronormative identities could be observed as Afrodiverso and La Casa Tomada mirArte donated organic homemade soaps and nasobucos representing the colors of sexual diversity articulating with others.They offered some recreational activities with children from their community. They offered transportation on their mopeds to the resident community in their neighborhoods to access medical appointments and other procedures, actively participating in the campaign against homophobia and lesbophobia, information posted on social networks.
- It also participated in social networks for the celebration of important dates in the fight against racism, as well as participation in some online events.
- Strong participation and commitment in social networks in the face of the murder of the afroamericano, George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police in the United States.
The conception and methodology of popular education, from the outset, implies that the leaders present at our meetings prepare for driving themselves through the learning process, reflection, and analysis of issues related to racism and other forms of discrimination in order to gain autonomy and grow the RBA. At all times, the integration and framing of each group from the perspective of starting from individual experience, theorizing and returning to enriched practice has been of relevant importance.
Starting from the practices of the participants, we use the basic precepts of popular education to theorize and enrich the practices. La Red Barrial Afrodescendiente de Cuba and its liaison group, ASERE, proclaim their solidarity with the peoples of the world affected by the pandemic and its COVID-19 disaster, in particular with Afrodescendant populations, the most vulnerable sectors; among them, the poorest, women, trans people, migrants, refugees, as well as children and unemployed victims of neoliberal capitalism and the repression sanctioned by the countries where they live. We remain committed to a daily policy of care and mutual aid, solidarity, a firm adherence to the principles of the fight against racism and the objective of full equality in a world plagued by discrimination and segregation.
The epidemiological situation of the country, understand, Covid-19 negatively influences the work of the RBA, but regardless of this they have sought alternative actions that have allowed us to achieve our objective in terms of anti-racist awareness in our neighborhoods.
Carmen Nora Hernández, Trabajo Comunitario, Selección de Lecturas, Editorial Caminos, La Habana, 2005.
Daisy Rubiera Castillo, Inés María Martiatu Terry, Compiladora, Afrocubanas; Historia Pensamiento y Prácticas Culturales, Selección, Editorial Ciencias Sociales, La Habana, 2011.
María del Carmen Zabala Arguelles, Compiladora, Algunas Claves para pensar la Pobreza en Cuba desde la mirada de jóvenes investigadores, Centro Félix Varela – Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales. Programa Cuba, Publicaciones Acuario, La Habana, 2014.
Daisy Rubiera Castillo, Luis Carlos Marrero (Compiladores) Afrobarriando, Experiencias Comunitarias, Grupo de Reflexión y Solidaridad Oscar Arnulfo Romero, La Habana, 2014.
Adriana Muro Polo, Catherine Romero Cristancho, Derechos en Movimiento, Buenas prácticas desde La Habana, Colombia, 2014.
- 1Culture is understood here as the matrix of conceptions, values, habits and customs that people and human groups carry.
- 2Siblings who share the same mother and have different fathers.