Mala Lengua  
  Home - Portal | Music - Música | Authors - Autores | Arts - Artes 
  Site Map - Mapa del Sitio | News - Noticias | Search ACW - Buscar en ACW 
  Mala Lengua

French Republican Ideals and Cuban Ethnic Identities

Cuba, like many Latin American republics, inherited its republican ideals ("republicanismo") from France, where they were established in the Revolution of 1789 and thought out for many decades before then as part of the Enlightement by such philosophers as René Descartes, John Locke, Voltaire, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. These thoughts and ideals represent definite advances over the monarchical ideology prevalent in Europe, with the divine right of kings, which was also espoused by los Reyes de España against whom Cuba rebelled with its largely African Mambi Army. Simon Bolivar himself went to France in 1804 where he was favorably impressed by their republican ideals and horrified by Napoleon's imperial rejection of them. 

These ideals stressed the equality of all men and were later used to impose or declare a color blind society. However, these ideals are promoted by people of European cultures, and the key feature wherever the French variant exists is that they are also used to deprecate and even forbid expressions of any ethnic identities. The maneuver is hypocritical, since the French or the Spanish ethnic identity is naturally privileged, and all others are under assault. We note that in several recent cases of racist thinking in Cuba, the expressed motivation is the defense of republican ideals, republicanismo, not a marxist insistence on class warfare as being more important than confronting racism.  These complexities are largely unknown to Americans, who are usually only familiar with their own traditions that typically feature a much higher level of violence and have a different basis for disrespecting people of color, leading to some confusion in the interpretation of Cuban realities.

The marxist objection to engaging with issues of race in Cuba was more important in the past, as was the case in the 1950s criticism leveled against communist party member Portuondo Linares for daring to write his book on the 1912 Massacre, since in that earier perspective only class warfare mattered.

A recent well studied case of extended racism (denounced by leading intellectuals) features the book by Cuban historian Rolando Rodríguez of the University of Havana on the 1912 Massacre where he actually defends the Republic as it existed in 1912 while it was committing one of the greatest massacres in Cuban history. And he defended it from a republican not a marxist point of view. Similarly, on the centenary of that massacre in 2012, former Minister of Culture Armando Hart and the then powerful Historian of Havana, Eusebio Leal Spengler, unveiled a plaque honoring José Francisco Martí, the son of José Martí and the Chief of Staff of the Cuban Army in the field in Oriente, the army that hunted down and slaughtered members of the Independent Party of Color in 1912. Here too, the motivation for this strange commemoration was republican, not marxist.

The comparison with the French system can be productive as so many of the racist manifestations are very similar. For example, Elvira Cervera, one of Cuba's most famous actresses, someone considered to be the Rosa Parks of Cuba, had numerous disagreements with the management of Cuba's media establishment over the lack of representation of blacks in media productions. When she wanted to have an all black cast in her Todo in Sepia project, management told her this was not at all desirable. This is of course allowed for whites, there are many examples of an all white cast. The argument is very similar to that employed by the French, who strenuously discourage a movie with an all black cast. For example, the French will not allow a film like Red Tails celebrating the Tuskegee Airmen in WWII, with an all black cast - the segregated unit helped in the liberation of the French! Another black American film, Think Like a Man, was rejected in France because it portrays a black couple while the French government actually has a policy of encouraging only inter-racial couples.

Another instance of this racist approach to casting occured during the period of censorship and repression known as the Quinquenio Gris (1971-1976), when theatre censor Armando Quesada told playwright Tomás Gonzalez, while shining a desk light on him,  that the Hamlet play he was putting on was "negrista" as the actors were black. (Levitar en Santa Clara 4/18/2008 Cuba Encuentro.)

This similarity between Cuba and France has to do with the fact that the Cuban concept of la republica as elaborated by José Martí, Cuba's founding father, comes from 1789 France and has the same built in problems with respect to dealing with identity issues. There may be deeper reasons having to do with similarities in French and Spanish cultures, but the resemblances between the republican justification for anti-ethnic maneuvers in both cultures are striking and constitute an important part of the infrastructure favoring white supremacist tendencies in both countries as well as across Latin America. Indeed, for the Cubans to successfully address this would put them way ahead of the rest of Latin America.

Perhaps José Martí's most famous saying is "Hombre es más que blanco, más que mulato, más que negro", "Man is more than white, more than mulatto, more than black," taken from his essay, "Mi raza" in 1893. Tellingly, many versions of this essay follow this sentence with another, "Cubano es más que blanco, más que mulato, más que negro," which has since been used to express the Cuban identity as one based on a citizenship that trumps ethnic identity.

Those in both France and Cuba who use their republican ideals to structure concepts of race and identity tend to be in deep denial about the extent of racism in their respective societies, a denial facilitated by chronic undercounts or non-counts of afrodescendants. One of the pillars of Cuban racism is the Cuban census, which dramatically undercounts AfroCubans as it relies on self identification with respect to race. Census results help managers across Cuba claim they are not discriminating as their work force or institutional membership appears to meet the ratios in census results. The French go them one better, they actually passed a law in 1978 making the count of people by ethnicity very difficult. And this was passed with reference to the republican ideals of the equality of man in order to deny the ever more strident right ammunition for their harangues - with every good intention in the world, or so it would seem.

The invisibility of persons of African descent even occurs when they are very much present: they are viewed as just another citizen. This of course has its positive side, but can be extreme. In his Agentes en Cuba al servicio de los Estados Unidos, 11/14/2016, Radio Habana, Arthur González rightly gives details on the career of Manuel Cuesta Morúa as a paid dissident. However, there is absolutely no discussion of the fact that Cuesta Morúa's main claim to fame is as a dissident working on issues of race and that he is part of a broad and decades old US plan to use race as a wedge issue. The whole article could just as well have been written about any dissident of iberian Spanish descent.

In addition to the 19th century inheritance from France, another factor in the strong republicanismo which prevails in Cuba is the influx of so many republican refugees from the Spanish Civil War, 1936 - 1939. These republicans and their children played a prominent role in the Cuban Revolution. An official from FAO who went to Cuba in the 70's noted how in his meetings with senior party officials they would ask each other "You from Sevilla, how did you do things there?" and "You from Madrid, how was it done there?".  They were mostly 1st and 2nd generation Spaniards.

There are differences between France and Cuba. France actually used its republican ideals to justify its colonial policies, while Cuba had none. France is majority white and stridently wants to stay that way. Cuba is majority afrodescendiente and the reality of its very strong African cultures will prevail.

There is a whole other level of violence in the American system with its routine extrajudicial killings by the police, something that is very rare in Cuba and in France. That is a more profound sort of barbarism.

Behind the presence or absence of republican ideals, there are some indications of deep seated historical differences between the latin and anglos-saxon world views. The colonial policies of France and Spain both featured a state run enterprise where most colonists were men, leading to mestizaje. Today, around 60% of French Quebecois have native american genes (though many do not know it) and the mestizaje of Latin America is well known. The Anglo Saxon colonists brought their women with them under a private, corporatist system and were more prone to carry out the complete extermination of native american groups opposing them.

It is my hope that work on the similarities between France and Latin America could lead to collaborative efforts between anti-racism movements in both places.

-- Andy Petit

Nation and Multiculturalism in Cuba: A Comparison with the United States and Brazil 5/7/2009 George Zarur: traces republican ideals in Cuba and Brazil to the French Republic

Racisme légal 10/31/2012 Le Courrier: This article critiques French republican thinking from an anticolonial, anti-racist point of view.


The Enlightenment in Latin America

Introduction: Enlightenments in Ibero-America, Colonial Latin American Review, 4/17/2015

Cuban Republican Ideals

The Living Eye and the Living Lie  4/17/2015 Panoramas: by Alan West-Durán - "Below is my analysis of what I consider are some of the philosophical and ideological underpinnings of Cuban color-blind racism, motivated by the Zurbano case." With many references to the history of ideas in France.

José Julián Martí y Pérez, 1853 - 1895

"Mi raza" por Jose Marti  4/16/1893 Ensayistas: "Hombre es más que blanco, más que mulato, más que negro."

"Mi raza" 4/16/1893 "Cubano es más que blanco, más que mulato, más que negro"

Myths of Racial Democracy: Cuba, 1900-1912 6/1/1999 Latin American Research Review, by Alejandro de la Fuente: "This article reviews the recent literature on the so-called myths of racial democracy in Latin America and challenges current critical interpretations of the social effects of these ideologies. Typically, critics stress the elitist nature of these ideologies, their demobilizing effects among racially subordinate groups, and the role they play in legitimizing the subordination of such groups. Using the establishment of the Cuban republic as a test case, this article contends that the critical approach tends to minimize or ignore altogether the opportunities that these ideologies have created for those below, the capacity of subordinate groups to use the nation-state's cultural project to their own advantage, and the fact that these social myths also restrain the political options of their own creators."

Black Political Activism and the Cuban Republic, Melina Pappadimos, Google Books

The Cuban Republic and José Martí: Reception and Use of a National Symbol,  By Alfonso W. Quiroztop

French Republican Ideals

Laïcité et République Sociale

Laïcité, Wikipedia, in English

Racisme légal 10/31/2012 Le Courrier: This article critiques French republican thinking from an anticolonial, anti-racist point of view. Les Mots Sont Importants

Broken Mirrors: Race, Historical Memory, and Citizenship in 20th/21st-Century France, Chapter 6, Geoffroy de Laforcade, Norfolk State University

Racism in France, AfroCubaWeb

Brazilian Republican Ideals

Etnicidade e Multiculturalismo, George Zarur

Cannibal Democracytop

Cannibal Democracy: Race and Representation in the Literature of the Americas  by Zita Nunes, Google Books

French Influence on Cuba

French colonization in cuba, 1791-1809, Latin American Studies, William R Lux,  7/1972

Juan Gualberto Gómez
In July 1872, Francisco Vicente Aguilera and General Manuel de Quesada arrived in Paris to raise funds for Cuban independence. Needing a translator, Gómez was hired, making his first professional connection. But the political situation in France became more difficult, following the defeat of the Second French Empire in the Franco-Prussian War and subsequent violence of the proletarian "Paris Commune" amid the rocky founding of the Third French Republic, and soon he faced a difficult economic situation as well. In 1874, his parents experienced economic hardships and informed Gómez they couldn't continue to finance his stay in Paris and advised him to return to Cuba. Gómez, not wanting to return, found low-paying jobs at newspapers as a reporter. Eventually, he suspended his studies to work as a journalist in the Revue et Gazette des Theatres, which was the beginning of his journalistic career

Ramón Emeterio Betances, Cuban Ambassador to Paris
At the time of his arrival in Paris, Betances witnessed the aftermath of the 1848 Revolution and its backlash, the June Days Uprising, earlier that year. His future political views were directly shaped by what he saw and experienced at the time. He considered himself "an old soldier of the French Republic". Inspired by the proclamation of the 2e République, he rejected Puerto Rican aspirations for autonomy (sought from Spain by Puerto Rican politicians since 1810) in favor of Puerto Rican

Color Blind Racism

Color blind racism is racism that acts as if skin colour does not matter – even when it does.  It is widespread across the planet, including the US, but it is elevated in importance in French Republican and Republican derived racism across Latin America. The term originated in the US and is also used to describe how the US is becoming more like Latin America.

"New Racism," Color-Blind Racism and the Future of Whiteness in America by Eduardo Bonilla Silva

Racism without Racists by Eduardo Bonilla Silva


Contacting AfroCubaWebtop

Electronic mail [replace _AT_ with @]

[AfroCubaWeb] [Site Map] [Music] [Arts] [Authors] [News] [Search this site]

Copyright © 2009 AfroCubaWeb, S.A.