Monday, March 02, 2009

Analyzing pre-Castro Cuban racism through Cuban music

Nelson Guirado , a Cuban Republican blogger, writes:

Blacks, you see, were generally regarded as being of lower social status in Cuba, but their status wasn't codified into law. In the American South, black inferiority was a legal reality. Cubans blacks had a greater amount of social mobility than American blacks- their race was an inhibition, not an impenetrable barrier.

The pre-fifties Cuban approach to race was encapsulated in the terms, "money whitens" and negro fino (literally, "fine black person" to be read as "classy" or "articulate."). All things being equal, whites had a social advantage. Of course, all things are never equal (money, looks, talent, etc.). The song above, "Negro de Sociedad" by Orquesta America tells of a black wife who embarrasses her black husband at an upscale affair by dancing the rumba, the “blackest” Cuban dance, seen by the party attendees, apparently, as uncivil.

The song's very name and that the singer's embarrassed shows the black disadvantage, that the black person is there in the first place proves the possibility of black social mobility, and that Orquesta America makes a joke about it says that people didn't take the “money whitens” concept completely seriously. One imagines the situation closer to a modern black businessman's rapping cousin busting a few rhymes at a corporate cocktail party than a turn-of-the-century Alabama woman bringing her black boyfriend home to pa'.

READ MORE: Analyzing pre-Castro Cuban racism through Cuban music

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