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Volume 61 / Social Sciences


BENIGNO E. AGUIRRE-LOPEZ, Professor of Sociology, Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice, University of Delaware

RECENT SCHOLARSHIP IN THE SOCIOLOGY of the Caribbean is increasingly well balanced, with a number of countries and specific research topics receiving well-deserved attention. A number of volumes consider large segments of the entire region. Two monographs present wide-ranging collections of articles on Caribbean women and matters of gender (items #bi2001004503# and #bi2001004531#). Other edited volumes center on creolization (item #bi2001004518#), race and ethnicity (item #bi2001004557#), and social policy (item #bi2001004527#). Among the most intriguing and thought provoking of these ambitious works are two analyzing Caribbean gods (item #bi2001004538#) and romantic imagery and trope to make sense of the Caribbean (item #bi2001004526#).

Cuba continues to be the subject of many publications. Race and ethnic relations, women, immigration, and the present-day economic crisis are recurrent themes. Arguably, the most ambitious of the recent publications is Louis A. Pérez's On Becoming Cuban (item #bi2001004522#), documenting quite convincingly the extraordinary importance of relations with the US on the development of the Cuban nation. His subthesis, that the revolution of 1959 was caused by the widespread disenchantment of Cubans with the promise of capitalism is, in this reviewer's opinion, much less valid, using as it does a relative-deprivation explanation of revolution that is widely discredited at present.

With few exceptions, as is the case among other countries in the region, there is a dearth of scientific investigations of race relations in Cuba. A cloud of misrepresentations surrounds the matter of race relations on the island, both among Cubans in Cuba and among Cubans in the US. Whereas the former believe that race relations were terrible before 1959 and that the revolution liberated blacks, the latter argue that race relations before the revolution were democratic and that racial prejudice has increased since 1959. Certainly life for whites and blacks living in Cuba changed a great deal after the revolution, but we do not know with sufficient certainty how and why and how much and with what effects. In Castro, the Blacks, and Africa (1988), Moore offers an enlightened analysis of Castro's ambivalent position towards the race question and his attempts to silence racial discussions (see HLAS 51:4417 and HLAS 52:1570). Segal (The Black Diaspora: Five Centuries of the Black Experience Outside Africa (1995)) argues that the educational, income, and health care gaps between whites and blacks in Cuba decreased substantially thanks to the revolution and its policies. Yet, he also claims that Castro's policies have been enacted within the Latin American paternalist approach to race ("we whites know what is best for you") with the expectation that blacks would exhibit total loyalty and not talk about or organize around racial matters. Still, despite these and other hypothesized transformations in race relations during the post-1959 period, the empirically verifiable knowledge on race in Cuba is scant.

Cuba, like other Caribbean societies, has a racialized social system in which no one is excluded from higher statuses solely based on skin color.1

Nevertheless, whiteness is highly valued and seems to be one of the primary dimensions of status by which the overall evaluation of a person's social position is reached. And even though the reigning ideology of the state tirelessly declares that skin color and other morphological characteristics and cultural traits do not matter, few blacks are found in the upper echelons of the bureaucratic structure, the Communist Party, or industry. Furthermore, the limited research on race in Cuba suggests that racial prejudice and discrimination are still rampant in Cuba (item #bi 99007361# and De la Fuente and Glasco2).

Moore (1988) (also see Fernandez3 and Bobes4) argues that races in contemporary Cuba are cultural, sociopsychological constructs, primarily functioning at the level of sexual practice, mate selection, and ingrained expectations regarding racial superiority and authority, rather than being reflected in widespread public practices of discrimination and objective, structural differences in the life conditions of whites and blacks. Surprisingly, he also argues that structural discrimination such as racial inequalities in income, education, and treatment by government bureaucracies has largely disappeared.

Strong theoretical arguments and independent empirical evidence make it implausible to assume that the structural similarities observed are a function of a system of racial equality brought about by the present-day regime. As previously noted, racism, as an ideological system, is alive and well in Cuba. And, if as Thompson argues (Studies in Theory and Ideology, 1984), ideologies have in common explanatory schemes that serve to justify systems of domination and thus protect privilege, the Moore thesis—that racism exists as an ideology in Cuba but has no material basis—is a glaring contradiction to mainstream sociological theorizing on the subject of race and ideology. Racism or, more properly, racial ideology, is connected to racial structures or systematic practices and mechanisms to reproduce racial privilege. Research is slowly documenting the material salience of race, particularly since the start of the so-called special period in 1989. (For up-to-date documentation on the economic difficulties of daily life in Cuba, see item #bi2001004512#). Perhaps De la Fuente offers the most compelling analysis to date of the evidence.5

He documents the substandard housing of many nonwhites, their overrepresentation in the prison population, their exclusion from the tourist industry, their relative inability to access dollars through family remittances from abroad, and the increasing income gap between whites and nonwhites. He reports that 75 percent of his respondents in a recent survey done in Havana and Santiago de Cuba indicated that race prejudice is rampant in Cuba. Other scholars echo these findings. Alvarado Ramos has documented the limited level of support for interracial marriage in Cuba (about 55 percent), particularly among white Cubans (68 percent).6

(Interestingly, the level of support for interracial unions in Cuba is about the same as that in the US.) There is racial discrimination in interpersonal relations and institutionalized discrimination.7

An example of the latter may be the fact that blacks, who are viewed as "more aggressive" and "prone to criminal behavior," are greatly over-represented among those in prison.8

Pérez Sarduy has suggested that economic inequality among the races has increased due to the new importance the regime places on the tourism industry.9

The industry discriminates against blacks, placing an emphasis on "buena presencia" (good looks). Racial inequities have also increased due to the transfer of remittances from Cubans living outside of Cuba, the majority of whom are white, to their family members still living on the island 10,11

Other important themes in recent studies are the family system in Cuba (item #bi2001004529#), particularly its changes under conditions of high emigration (item #bi2001004519#), and the ongoing transformation of social controls on migratory flows from the island (item #bi2001004505#).

Andújar Persinal's account of the Dominican Republic shows a prevailing ideology of racism in vogue among elites, in which the importance of African cultural elements has been systematically denied (item #bi2001004539#). An excellent collection of articles on the racial question in the Dominican Republic is item #bi2001004532#, particularly the articles on anti-Haitianismo and racism and politics. Another dominant theme is the emergence of civil society (items #bi2001004504#, #bi2001004541#, and #bi2001004506#) and the transformations of the political system of the Dominican Republic (item #bi2001004539#). Also particularly noteworthy regarding the Dominican political system are the excellent proceedings of the IV Congreso Iberoamericano Sobre Reforma del Estado y de la Administración Pública (item #bi2001004559#), the written reminiscences of Monsignor Agripino Núñez Collado (item #bi2001004537#), and the disciplined attempt by the Pontifica Universidad Católica Madre y Maestra to chart political values, perceptions of democracy, political participation and aspirations and hopes of the Dominican people (item #bi2001004523#). Another important theme is the study of adolescent fertility and the changing views of gender relations under conditions of globalization (items #bi2001004514#, #bi2001004549#, and #bi2001004516#). Finally, Dagoberto Tejeda Ortiz's two-volume treatise on Dominican popular culture (item #bi2001004540#), with its in-depth treatment of popular religion, carnival, legends and myths, and symbols and artistic expressions, represents a very important contribution to our understanding of the way of life of the people.

Lillian Guerra's work is arguably the best cultural history written during the last few years (item #bi2001004547#). In it she emphasizes the interplay of symbols of nationhood, national politics, and social class interests in the context of US imperial pretensions and actions in Puerto Rico.

The social science attention devoted to Haiti continues to improve. Perhaps the most useful effort in this last batch of projects is the remarkable attempt by Geraldino González to document the environmental destruction of the small nation and the impact of this destruction on the people (item #bi2001004552#). This work is an exceptional call to arms to all people concerned with the fate of the earth and the plight of the Haitian people, containing detailed information on contaminants, deforestation, the failure of previous international efforts to improve the environment, and the widespread awareness of the crisis and desire to alleviate it among Haitians. Another important effort uses public opinion polls to chart Port-au-Prince's political culture (item #bi2001004524#).

Carnival continues to hold a special attraction as a topic of investigation. The most insightful treatment is Peter Mason's study of the Trinidad Carnival, which points out the social organizational features of Carnival and the changes that are taking place as a result of commercialization (item #bi2001004544#).

  1. Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo, "Rethinking Racism: Toward a Structural Interpretation," American Sociological Review, 62, 1997, p. 465–80; and Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo, "The Essential Social Fact of Race," American Sociological Review, 64, 1999, p. 899–906.
  2. De la Fuente, Alejandro and L. Glasco. "Are Blacks 'Getting Out of Control'?: Racial Attitudes, Revolution and Political Transition in Cuba," in Toward a New Cuba?: Legacies of a Revolution. Edited by M.A. Centeno and M. Font, 1997, p. 53–71 (see HLAS 59:5004).
  3. Fernandez, Nadine T., "The Color of Love: Young Interracial Couples in Cuba," Latin American Perspectives, 23:1, 1996, p. 99–117 (see HLAS 57:4827).
  4. Bobes, Velia Cecilia, "Cuba y la cuestión racial," Perfiles Latinoamericanos, 5:8, 1996, p. 115–139 (see HLAS 57:4776).
  5. De la Fuente, Alejandro. "Recreating Racism: Race and Discrimination in Cuba's Special Period," Georgetown University Cuba Briefing Paper Series 18, 1998.
  6. Alvarado Ramos, Juan, "Relaciones raciales en Cuba. Notas de investigación," Temas, 7, 1996, p. 37–43.
  7. Cano Secade, Maria del Carmen, "Relaciones raciales, proceso de ajuste, y politica social," Temas, 7, 1996, p. 58–65.
  8. Guanche Pérez, Jesus, "La cuestion 'racial' en Cuba actual: algunas consideraciones," Papers, Revista de Sociologia, 52, 1997, p. 57–65.
  9. Pérez Sarduy, Pedro, "Qué tienen los negros en Cuba?" America Negra, 15, 1998, p. 217–228.
  10. Ibid.
  11. De la Fuente, Alejandro. "Recreating Racism: Race and Discrimination in Cuba's Special Period," Georgetown University Cuba Briefing Paper Series 18, 1998.

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