Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Shades of Racism

Cuba: The Shades of Racism
October 15, 2014
Veronica Vega

HAVANA TIMES — I thank Yasser Farres Delgado for having taken the
trouble to read and reply to my post Where's our common sense?

The simple fact of debating about this regrettable reality is a way of
pulling ourselves out of the apathy we suffer.

However, I would like to clarify that my post aims to demonstrate, not
the superiority or inferiority of any ethnic group, but unconscientious
practices that are becoming more and more common. It is important to
point out that, at least in Cuba, the Yoruba religion is practiced by
people of all races, social standing and educational levels (even
though, owing to the money that certain rituals require, it has
increasingly become, as I mentioned in my post, a status symbol).

As for the history that Yasser remits us to, it does not have an impact
on Cuba's contemporary sociopolitical context, a context that would
require a study in its own right, as would, of course, the degradation
of which these repugnant spectacles are part.

The Babalawo (Yoruba priest) I interviewed for Havana Times himself
criticized the loss of values caught sight of in practitioners of the
religion, which go from placing offerings in places frequented by
children, to incidents such as a priest profaning the sacred ties to a
goddaughter by having sex with her, or the lack of scruples shown by
those who favor people with high incomes.

As for the official restrictions this religion encounters in Cuba, they
are no worse than those faced by oriental traditions such as yoga, for,
with the exception of Hatha, which has been linked to a public health
program, or Kriya Yoga, founded by Paramahansa Yogananda before 1959,
these are condemned to operating in secrecy and to slowly dying out. It
makes no difference that they aim at human betterment. They have been
waiting for the approval of a Religious Bill that will afford them the
freedom to congregate for years.

The Yoruba religion has an official place of worship and its rituals are
promoted for tourism purposes. I don't believe that one requires any
official support to be charitable, or to serve as an example, if not of
spirituality, at least of ethical conduct. In Cuba, there is no official
support for many causes that deserve it and many operate through
alternative networks, like those devoted to the protection of stray
animals, the production and promotion of underground art and independent

I really don't know whether the number of people who become initiated
into the Yoruba religion and express themselves arrogantly and
disrespectfully are the majority or not, which is why I made a point of
saying that it was an impression from "daily experience." It is a
personal impression that has regrettably only been reinforced.

My question still stands: is it fair and permissible for a religion to
leave behind such waste, not only for practitioners to find, but for the
immense majority of citizens to come upon? And, as for the aggravating
factor of this newly-imported plague that endangers the entire country
(a detail Yasser does not even care to mention), even if it had some
kind of epistemological justification, must we simply accept it?

I agree that ecumenicalism is needed for the practice of democracy, but
the right to one's personal creed ends precisely when it begins to
encroach upon a public space that has not been willingly granted one. I
used to collect seashells on the coast of Alamar and the beach in
Cojimar for my craft work. There came a time when I had to dig for them
among feathers, bones and other animal remains, while holding my breath.
I once saw a bag that evidently contained the corpse of a quadruped,
drenched in blood, under a swarm of flies. Children can no longer play
or swim at these beaches that no one cares to look after. A friend of
mine told me he stopped going to the Havana Forest because of the number
of dead turtles one finds there. It is a terrible and depressing sight.

I used to meet up with friends at the park at H and 21st Streets in
Vedado. The last few times, we had to leave there in a rush because of
the stench emanating from animal sacrifices left next to the trees. The
issue of garbage dumpsites and open sewers must also be addressed, but I
dare say the cause of these problems is the not the same and neither is
the solution.

Imposing the results of a religious ritual (and a pernicious one at
that) on others is in no way defensible – it is the first sign of the
absence of ecumenicalism and democracy.

I am not only a vegetarian. I also believe that no practice that
involves killing or subjecting living beings to pain can contribute to
the awakening of the human spirit and that, on the contrary, it leads to
its inevitable degradation. I don't have to bear witness to any sacrifice.

Despite this, as I made clear in my post, "I've never imposed my
disapproval on any santero, given that their beliefs and rituals are not
my concern."

Racism involves any form of disrespect and subjugation. Is condemning
helpless animals to death for a personal aspiration, without even using
the quickest and least painful method, not a brutal expression of
colonialism and racism? These are beings that trust and depend on us for

Compassion is merely one of the first steps on the ladder for anyone
aspiring to a spiritual life, and in most of the millennia-old
traditions we know of, in any culture, the only sacrifice that is
demanded is that of the ego. There is no need to sacrifice anything
outside of us, let alone a defenseless creature. No individual, social
or ecological benefit is derived from cruelty. This is an undeniable truth.

Jose Marti once said that "an irreligious people will inevitably die
out, for nothing among them will nourish virtue (…)" At this stage,
attributing the decadence of a society to what happened centuries ago is
a cop-out which is both questionable and futile.

According to such a premise, Cuba is irremediably condemned to moral and
material misery, not only because of the "genocide and epistemocide"
perpetrated against African slaves, but also against its native
inhabitants, who were peaceful aboriginals.

We have had a long time to process the wounds of history. If the
priority of any community is, if not virtue, at least prosperity, then
the solution will never come from causing the suffering of animals – the
cost of which, as we're already seeing, is to move backwards as a society.

Source: Cuba: The Shades of Racism - Havana -

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