Wednesday, April 13, 2011


--final section from my paper on the Afro-Cuban identity; don't get lost--I'm hoping my professor doesn't as well--
In 1989, as the communist bloc began to fall, economists quickly began working on plans to fix the faults of several decades of socialist government. Many came to the conclusion that “shock therapy” was the best option; old institutions would be “blown up” and new private enterprises would be formed. Metaphors can only be drawn so far, but anthropologists were among the leading group in distancing the term “race” from its biological origins, often employing similar actions in an intellectual way. Even using the term “race” has become in the minds of many anthropologists somehow passé, something to be looked down upon. In Eastern Europe, following the “shock therapy” tactics, the absence of a strong state (as well as the specter of the former socialist governments) helped create an almost feudal environment: mafia-like groups formed, filling the vacuum left behind when institutions were “exploded.” Racial studies without a tie to biology show a comparable displacement. In Cuba, this can be seen by the nature of a political state making use of racial terminology whenever it deems it useful.

Whereas it seems counterintuitive to show nostalgia for the Eastern Europe of the Soviet Bloc, it is also wrong to idealize the roots of “race” in biology, with its main outcome that most common of xenophobias, racism, but this does not mean that there cannot be more work to be done. The view of race as “socially constructed,” is changing to “politically constructed,” a future potentially as horrid as its biological roots, if one considers the number of nationalist as well as racist conflicts fought in recent years.

The Afro-Cuban identity is a promising field to study this transition from social to political; however, the anthropologist appears in good position to act in order to minimize this hazardous situation and would perhaps be in an obligatory place to do so. Rather than simply eradicate the word “race” from the ethnographer’s dictionary, as the Cuban state attempted in claiming to have deracialized the country, it might be more beneficial to report on the ground, as anthropologists should, and in that way hope that race does slowly become less important and exclusive. Reports of its demise have been largely exaggerated.

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