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Cuba, Libya, Socialists and Muslims Must Come To Terms With Racism - Like Everyone Else

My mother is a beautiful Black woman (relatively darker than most Blacks in America) who was born in Panama. When I grew up most of my friends knew very little about Panama other than boxing champion Roberto Duran and the former leader of the country Manuel Noreaga who was summarily taken from Panama and imprisoned in a Miami jail cell in 1989, at the order of President George Bush. When most people that I knew would see my mother they found it hard to make the connection to Panama because her complexion was much darker than that of Noreaga or Duran or most people from Panama pictured in the US media.

I remember being in college in 1991 when the US attacked Iraq and reading a Time magazine story on the war. I was pleasantly surprised to see several beautiful Black Iraqi women in a picture. They looked just like any other beautiful Black women that you might see walking around in just about any part of America. But my surprise grew out of the fact that the image of the Iraqis projected by the media was that the Iraqi people were overwhelmingly lighter in complexion - closer to that of the country's leader Saddam Hussein.

I also experienced a similar experience the first time that I saw the Cuban Olympic team perform when I was very young. I was surprised at the overwhelming number of Blacks who comprised the team. I never realized, at that young age, how many Black-skinned people there were in Cuba. And of course, in those early years, I had largely been victimized by relying upon network television to show a true picture of the Cuban people. From their prism, everyone in Cuba looks like Fidel Castro.

I also remember being surprised to learn of the numerous Blacks that live in the Middle East area populated by Israelis and Palestinians and Arabs. Of course the image sent over here is one of the Semite - a light complexioned person. Several people that I knew who visited and lived in that part of the world showed me pictures of the Blacks, as dark as any in the world, that lived in that part of the world.

In all four cases, for us living in the United States - the projection of the lighter-skinned citizen in Panama, Iraq, Cuba and Israel is courtesy of the mainstream domestic media which has a penchant for ignoring the plight and even the existence of dark-skinned Blacks.

But the media is not solely to blame.

I have found that in many countries in Central and South America and in the Middle East where there are significant Black populations - sometimes even a majority Black population - that Blacks are few and far between in leadership positions and invariably are on the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder.

Falasha Jews in Israel, Cuban Blacks and even immigrant Black Africans in Libya complain of the mistreatment and discrimination that they have received from their government and in society.

Libya says that the heightened attention that she has received for charges of internal racism are the work of external forces which are trying to destabilize the government.

The Libyan position is probably true. But does that mean that there isn't a racism problem in Libya?

And recently the Washington Post featured a story that highlights the problems that Cuba has had in dealing with its own version of racism at home.

Certainly such stories on Cuba may serve the interests of those who want Castro out of power. But that doesn't deny the reality that racism exists in Cuba and in every other part of the world.

I have always been fascinated by the romantic view of Cuba, Libya and other socialist and Islamic countries that many Blacks in this country hold.

Many Blacks seem to give such countries a clean slate simply because of several good deeds that the leaders and governments of these countries have performed.

Some Blacks seem to think that just because a country stands up to American imperialism they deserve undying loyalty and uncritical allegiance. I beg to differ and now know better.

I personally don't care how much you may oppose the United States or imperialism or colonialism. If you treat the Black-skinned people in your country like 3rd class citizens, mistreat Black women and we have to strain our eyes to find a Black person in a powerful leadership position in your government even though your country has a majority or significant Black population, then you deserve criticism for such a thing.

And your revolutionary credentials must become suspect if you can point out evil in London, Washington D.C., at the IMF and WTO, but sweep racism under the rug in your own country.

And there are just too many accounts of racism from those who live in socialist and Muslim countries to ignore.

We hear a lot of talk about the evils of capitalism and materialism from Communists, Socialists and Muslims in America and from around the world.

But I think it is about time we heard a little bit more about racism. Especially the racism that exists in the Socialist and Islamic world.

Even though it may not help the romantic view that many Blacks in America have of so-called revolutionary countries abroad, a bit of full-disclosure would go along way to healing some deep wounds.

Cedric Muhammad

Thursday, November 16, 2000

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