While The Cuban Revolution is known the world over for its advances in combating structural racism, anti-Black racism persists at a personal level, and a coalition of Afro-Cuban woman are borrowing a page from the Black Lives Matter Movement to complete the revolution´s unfinished business.
Founded in 2012, Havana’s Afro-Descendent Organization for Women is working to combat the discrimination and stereotypes that Afro-Cuban women face, while also working to address broader societal issues of discrimination against Black people, the magazine Fusion, reports.
“The Cuban Revolution brought a lot of positive changes for Black women in Cuba in education and with access to resources, but the racial problem in Cuba is not necessarily a state problem or an institutional problem,” says Lucila Insua Brindis, the 67-year-old founder of the group.
Brindis told Fusion that unlike the institutionalized racism in the US that results in wide disparities in health, income, education and the criminal justice system, that racism in Cuba´s racism is “personal and exists culturally” and is something that’s “transmitted through the family in most cases.”
The organization, which has grown into a network of approximately 40 members, is influenced by the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States--which is spearheaded by three African-American women from the LGBT community, and hopes that softening U.S.-Cuba relations will foster stronger, transnational ties between the two groups.
“We support our brothers and sisters in the U.S. and we are connecting with other networks around Latin America because we are all fighting for the same thing: racial equality and to shatter negative stereotypes about Black people,” Brindis said.
The group leads educational workshops and advocates for a wider representation of Afro-descendent beauty in the media and Cuban pop culture.
“We write to newspapers, and if we watch a show that we don’t like, we write to the producers and ask why all the black characters were the criminals in the show?” Brindis explained. “In addition, we use our platform to teach Afro-Cuban women to love their natural curly and kinky hair and their dark skin, which all comes from Africa.”
With a country that prides itself on its ‘racial democracy’, the activist explained they enjoy broad support from Cuba´s Marxist government, which is known for its strong ties to the African Diaspora.
“We have a lot of support from the state because the government dedicates themselves to education and the state has always prioritized education,” she said.
Across the Caribbean sea, Brazil also prides itself on its ‘racial democracy’, but the state of affairs in that country, home to more Black people than any country outside of Africa, is bleak.
But emblematic of the social movements increasingly headed by Black women-- including queer and trans folk-- Black women in Brazil are organizing as well.
Last year, the first march of its kind, Marcha Das Mulheres Negras, or the Black Women’s March saw at least 10,000 Black women come together in Brazil’s capital to protest against violence, racism, and to demand gender equality.
Women came from around the country and gathered outside the National Congress of Brazil.
Vanda Mendez, one of the movement's leaders, highlighted that a subtle but significant shift in Brazil´s political environment has expanded the access of women of color to the political sphere, as well as access to goods and services.
Nevertheless, such achievements are being questioned, with “Black women living in conditions of vulnerability, of fragility, without guarantees,” she added.
Black women are more likely to be victims of violence in the country, a 2015 government report found. Over the last decade, the numbers of murders of Black women in Brazil have increased by 54 percent, while those caterorized as fairer-skinned or white women in Brazil´s byzantine Census menu, the figure dropped by 9.8 percent.
The march is set to take place again this year on Monday July 25, and is also expected to draw a huge crowd.
Watch a video from last year's march: