I’ve been witnessing a major split of reactions amongst the liberal-minded over the death of Fidel Castro.
On one side I’m seeing celebrations because to them a totalitarian* dictator has finally died (peacefully in his home at age 90), and their argument is that he was evil because many Cubans died, were exiled, and were denied basic freedoms under his regime. Other tamer arguments are that he was a poor leader because his economy fluctuated from ruin to stabilization.
On the other side of this argument (worth noting: from primarily Black and Brown people) Castro was the hero who destroyed the myth of the invincibility of the white oppressor1. Nelson Mandela – who was considered a terrorist to America until 2008 (and did you know they also played a role in his 1962 arrest that lead to his life-imprisonment sentence?) – traveled to Cuba in 1991 to thank Fidel Castro and the Cuban people collectively for their direct support in the fight against apartheid. Mandela said this in a speech:
“We have come here today recognizing our great debt to the Cuban people. What other country has such a history of selfless behavior as Cuba has shown for the people of Africa? How many countries benefit from Cuban health care professionals and educators? How many of these volunteers are now in Africa? What country has ever needed help from Cuba and has not received it? How many countries threatened by imperialism or fighting for their freedom have been able to count on the support of Cuba?”2
From my perspective as a black woman of Jamaican descent, Fidel Castro shall be celebrated for his commitment to liberation across the diaspora, from the Caribbean to Latin America to Africa. I could say also to America, but Cuban aide in the wake of Hurricane Katrina was flat-out denied. Still, Cuba offered political asylum to Black American revolutionaries like Assata Shakur (even after the U.S. increased the bounty on her head to $2 million) as well as free medical school to low-income Blacks. Particularly as an American, I am well-taught on Castro’s wrongdoings. But it would be too one-dimensional of me to subscribe to the status quo’s unwavering condemnation of him.
I’ve wondered why his accomplishments were commonly dismissed whenever people would defend the narrative that Castro was simply a vicious tyrant. I bristle at the careless usage of buzzwords like authoritarian, totalitarian, fascist, socialist, communist, dictator, and tyrant when discussing him as if these words are all somehow synonymous. It’s a lazy attempt to debate a narrative rooted in misinformation. The sudden resurgence of Castro’s contrasting ideologies felt like the enlightenment that I needed to navigate through these disheartening times…
In the wake of a Trump presidency, Castro’s death came right on time.
I am reminded of what the true cost of freedom is. The pictures of Fidel Castro meeting with prominent black revolutionary leaders like Malcolm X and Patrice Lumumba that went viral as we mourned reminded me of the sense of urgency felt during revolutions-past. We truly need to adopt this same sense of urgency and determination to create a better tomorrow. This is what is lost on today’s reformist liberal.
I came to this conclusion delicately. I would have preferred, like so many liberals, a peaceful option. But the dangerous direction America is heading only shows me that we cannot reason with people without a conscience. Eventually resistance will be inevitable as is historically the case. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but this place just constantly shows its unwillingness to progress in the interests of its people. All that matters here is the bottom dollar.
Yet too many liberals just aren’t willing to do the work necessary to become an authority and that feeds into their unmitigated hatred of Castro who was a man who did manipulate, who did kill, who did torture, who did takeover…yes his wrongdoing is documented. But guys. Are we about to act like this isn’t how nations have been getting founded? In contrast, this detail usually gets downplayed in the case of the mass-pillaging and genocides of Native Americans, Africans, and global indigenous peoples. So why is this visceral reaction from the West uniquely attributed to Fidel Castro? Because westerners believe in “doin’ what you gotta do” to rationalize the fact that their privileged reality is because of the suffering of our ancestors before us. Reality for them, is that America is the world’s moral police serving freedom and democracy to savage nations on a silver platter and whoever opposes us are inherently evil boogeymen. Hell, I used to believe this myself!
But there’s levels to this shit. If you can rationalize and come to terms with the far greater atrocities committed by Europe and the United States of America, then I have to call into question your scathing reaction to Castro. Those superpowers did manipulate, torture, kill, and takeover lands merely for the desire to gain more stuff – more resources, a larger empire, more wealth. At least we hold Castro accountable for his wrongdoing. Yet we regurgitate a biased & oft-tampered with biased history taught to us to digest and honor not dictators, but kings and presidents who did worse than him and for their own personal agendas.
In Fidel Castro’s case, he was the cause of the effect of American and European imperialism. Castro was a reactive product of this globally ruthless environment and did what he knew was necessary for the greater good of getting Cuban people free from the oppression caused by the marriage of foreign white supremacy and capitalism. Is that radical? It feels like it, but why is that also attributed to evil? To be radical is to advocate for complete political and social reform. Just like Malcolm said. Just like Martin was realizing. If that is the cost of being free from this racist system, then so be it. Because I am so weary of this reality. And even so, I can’t find solace in believing that doing nothing for my own self-preservation is the best course of action because then I have to ask…
What dangers do Donald Trump’s impending administration have in store that will effect me?
I’m beginning to favor political and social reform for the greater wellbeing of taxpaying citizens. Under this upcoming Trump presidency, unless you’re a wealthy, straight, white man the rest of us are sincerely at stake. There has already been an incredible spike in hate crimes and its only been a few weeks since the election. Only cowardly fools vote for demagogues and find solace in terrorizing the powerless. What happens when a country’s people collectively grow more fearful all while knowing that their government is the reason for their unrest? When the self-respecting but still victimized powerless finally get fed up? Revolutions. Always.
Adding to the fact that America stopped being a democracy a long time ago (if it ever was since still not everybody can vote) and that right-wing extremists are gaining real power over us all, I know that resistance will start to become considered more seriously. Left-wing reformists have presented great ideas for the betterment of this nation that ends up being flat-out rejected by Republicans while Democrats subscribe to deflecting establishment-political tactics (presenting platforms for discussion to send a message of progress, taking things one-step at a time & insisting on patience from their impacted constituents, remaining moderate, bending to Republicans and special interest groups, covertly canning progressive reform due to a lack of financial, political, etc. gain) and never end up with their original plans intact. While liberals continue to wait ever so patiently and hope for the best, the great threat of the resurgence of dangerous, oppressive and racist law continues to rise and rebrand itself as the new normal.
The “alt-right” is a rebranding of white supremacy and white nationalism.
We can talk, tweet, march, and petition all day long to put our liberal minds at rest and ease back into the color-blind freedom-for-all Utopian fantasy we retreat to whenever this country shows us its fangs. But hear this: conservative extremism is taking over U.S. politics and media with no sign of slowing down. Just take a look at Trump’s picks for his administration so far or how about we discuss whether or not Jews are real people?
While we’re sharing funny political memes as coping mechanisms, our government and its states fund police forces that murder primarily Black citizens without consequence due to irrational suspicions borne from racism. This is the very racism that has been America’s foundational cancer that finally metastasized into a Trump presidency. Yet instead of an amputation, Democrats – who we elected to fight tooth-and-nail for progress – choose to cower behind false hope to “see what happens” and to “work together.” That is not what it means to being the bigger person; that is a clear surrender and it is heartbreaking.
It is heartbreaking because I do not believe this couldn’t have been avoided. I know so because we live in a country where a terrorist organization like the Ku Klux Klan can be revived not once or twice, but three times without any surveillance, infiltration, or disruption from the FBI as opposed to their treatment of other leftist movements.
Let an unqualified but charismatic black celebrity like Diddy or Kanye West run for president under the platform of Black Nationalism, pan-Africanism, and womanism. Let that black celebrity get endorsed by a newly revived Black Panther Party and get a couple shout-outs from Raul Castro. And tell me if this government wouldn’t have suddenly found that “no hate” clause somewhere in an Oval office cabinet drawer to disqualify him from the race. This has all been very telling.
It tells us with peak blatancy what the American government stands for and what it is willing to protect. We’ve seen men, women, and children have their lives taken away (sometimes literally watching online) without any kind of police reform to check this, even under the beloved Obama administration. But let four cops be shot in four different cities and the media gives it all the attention, just as a petty reaction to Black people growing more vocal of the fact that innocent civilians are being targeted and killed by armed civil servants on a large scale.
And police brutality is only one problem. We have to urgently eradicate mass incarceration, the lack of access to proper education and resources in low-income neighborhoods created purposely from the practice of redlining, mediocre education compared to the global standard, lack of access to proper healthcare for low-income people (and poor overall for a superpower), food deserts in low-income neighborhoods, no gun control, poor food quality overall, a high mortality rate for a first world nation, a dwindling middle class, oil fracking and #NoDapl, the Flint water crisis – I mean the list goes on! We have a very long way to go… and we need to speed up this process if we intend to remain sustainable.
Today’s reformist liberal needs to reckon with the reality of the sinking direction of contemporary America and the right-wing spectrum this country has been leaning towards. Listen. We will not become the first civilization in human history to achieve influence and power just from marching, safety-pinning, and petitioning. You really thought it was going to be that easy? Organizing and raising awareness on issues has always just been the first step. Our most revered historical figures have already brilliantly stated our cases throughout the twentieth century and prior. Fast forward to 2016 and we have still ended up with President-elect Donald Trump. America knows better – it just doesn’t care.
Fidel Castro’s legacy should be a reminder to those of us with sound mind and self-respect that the time is coming for liberals to have to fight back in a real way.
Privilege will not thaw upon learning about the brutal treatment of nonviolent protestors who get beaten and jailed. They have not thawed at the photos of free-loving hippies sticking flowers down the barrels of rifles. They have not thawed when seeing milk-drenched Native Americans trying to neutralize the burning pain of pepper spray. Their hearts have not thawed upon viewing Emmett Till’s casket nor have they thawed upon hearing about the bombing of that church in Birmingham that killed those four little girls. They did not soften when we all wore hoodies. They have not thawed. They will not soften. For the sake of the work of freedom fighters who came before us, a sense of urgency must grow and spread like wildfire among today’s liberals.
I do believe in the “freedom-for-all Utopia” us liberals have to imagine, I just do not believe it will ever be attained if we keep on submitting to sweet fantasies provided by this steadily corrupt system. If we desire real change – aworldwhereIcouldjustbefreetobeblackandandwomanandliveandsucceedstrictlybasedonmyownmeritswithnoclassistracistorsexistobstaclestrategicallyputinmywaytoplacateanirrationalparanoiausedtopreventusfromcomingtogripswithourdestructiveaddictiontogreed – it will only happen if us liberals accept the bitter truth that the cost of freedom is not flowery and pretty; it’s ugly and things get bloody. If we’re at a point where we can actually consider sitting through a Trump presidency, then what the hell will it take for us to take a stand?
The election of Donald Trump proved that those with power and (unrecognized) privilege would never allow for the creation of a new fair socioeconomic system to replace this presently corrupt one.
Some form of a revolution is necessary for the urgent changes we need to one day become reality. Because this isn’t a game. We are facing a real threat to our civil liberty and the basic freedoms that our fore-fighters died for us to have. No matter where you stand on the politics of Fidel Castro, it is undeniable that his revolutionary legacy and determination to conquer the great western threat is the emboldening reminder many of us need so we can arm ourselves with the knowledge that white supremacy is not invincible. Liberals today must stray away from the distraction of reformism to see what is blinking red right in their faces. We have to prepare to fight like hell for the greater good.