This post is not so much about Fidel Castro the man, I didn’t know him. Nor is it really about how *most* of the world perceived him, for we all know too-well what they are saying. Livestreaming from Calle Ocho or Hialeah in up-to-the-minute coverage. Or like CNN showing the Trump pinata or effigy with Cuban Flags and signs of Cubra Libre! Which we may suspect is in support of this new day? No, I fondly recall Cuban-Americans in exile from my time in Miami.
Remembering all too-well how anti-black they are. And this was after the demographics of exiles had begun to shift, or in direct relation to it. Take your pick.
What prompts this, are the many voices of people I adore and respect, ones I’d call activists and revolutionaries in the fight for liberation — herald Fidel Castro in hagiographic bullshit. Any other day they are voices of reason and critically assessing current events. Today they let me down.
They are also, as is usually the case, male. Or masculine. While not a monolith, like the Cuban people are often portrayed, they weren’t very complex either. That these very same masculine voices fixed their Twitter fingas to type strawmen about Obama’s drone policy & say that Castro had done more for Black people. That sort of argument and hottake will always leave me cold.
It is also hella anti-black from someone who is supposed to be a revolutionary. You can hardly hold up a white latin man as the savior of the African Diaspora and expect that crap to fly. But the men who did this, often shout, fulminate, and reverberate violently in long diatribes or threaded tweets. They often go against the grain, and usually find me nodding in agreement. Yet, they are so bestotted with their little Revolutionary hero, a personal icon to them, that they can’t see the forest for the trees. Or like Shaun #OkayShaun King will see both their true enemies of the far-right and those critiques on the far-left as being identical.
That isn’t critical thinking, that most certainly isn’t intersectional, and that damn sure ain’t revolutionary. Watching it all unfold from deep in the bowels of Third Shift Twitter, to the late dawning and rising of 1st shift was rather enlightening. That as soon as they could fix their fingers to defend his “legacy” they shot out the same old tired, completely uncritical talking points. Literacy, Health Care for All. Reminding me unfondly of the conversations about Hugo Chavez. Or the Bernie Sanders “Revolution.”
Demand better, please. Not just for yourself, but from everyone.
Let us look for just a short moment at this legacy. Without judging Fidel by his stated goals when he came to power, because by that standard he lost heartily. Let’s look at him, not as your fierce protector of Assata either, or any of the other great things he did. Let us enjoy him fully, as a human being, with contradictions and complex sharp corners. If you can look past those things, great for you. He was a master propagandist who hid his personal life as well as anyone in power for 50 years. You can not deny however that if we were to solely ask what revolution, what liberation, and then use his unprecedented 50 year span in power, that if you don’t find his progress scant. Then you might need to brush up on your reading.
Now, I’ll interject what is the #1 go-to, and is a valid response, he was “fighting the combined powers of the Western Hegemony.” Check. Yes, in fact he was. Did he not dawn on him that perhaps someone else might have a better route? That tyrannical revolution is hardly a revolution at all? There is something so very twentieth century about the man, his power, his means of keeping and propagating it.
Letting that fight excuse a multitude of sins, or saying it is no different then us caping for Obama is a low-rhetorical bar. It is worthy of the RW trolls you see everyday, and you should be ashamed if you invoke it. Obama has had 8 years in power. Not five decades. He is far from perfect, and he was at the head of a global-empire machine. Not some tiny island in the Caribbean with a population just over my beloved New York City.
They aren’t even comparable, but go ahead and tell yourself what ever you think will make you sleep and dream liberating dreams at night.
Having never personally owned a Ché Tshirt, or a copy of Mao’s little red book, or supported Castro (except in the return of little Elian Gonzalez) in any way, doesn’t diminish the respect I have for what he wanted to accomplish. However, comparing that to what he did actually accomplish is another thing.
Much was said, and again here I’m not addressing or talking over Cuban people. This is addressed to so-called liberationists and activists who have a thing for Castro. If you can’t ask yourself critically, why a tyrant, who was so good at manipulating the “old” press, and pushing all the right buttons, thumbing his nose at the Western Powers, while secretly getting played by the old USSR is your hero? Then my friend, a mirror, some meditation music, and times spent unpacking your populist liberation axis is worth the much needed self-care. For you are more vested in the image of the man, than you are in his so-called good works.
You’ve nothing to fear from me, there is no dancing in the streets that he is dead, but am I glad it finally happened? Yes. He’s been largely irrelevant, and I’ll use his own words, typically masculine, typical mansplaining to us why he was so freaking stubborn in his resignation letter:
He was pretty certain he was going to neither apologize (though he sorta did for the Gay Labor Camps in 2010) or refute the revolution that never quite materialized as a personal character flaw. It takes real cohones, or simply patriarchal stubbornness to never admit you were wrong. If he’d chosen a “hard path” versus none at all, or doubling down on his legacy, then I’d have more respect for him than I do now. That your wrongs imperiled many lives, cost others theirs, or did damages so profound it might take us decades to either critique fully, or undo them. Let’s not stray into binaries of right/wrong dichotomies either.
Gay Labor Camps, [Military Units to Aid Production / UMAP] definitely wrong. Whether they be run by your favorite symbolic revolutionary or some heartless dictator in another country. While he did admit it was his low-point, he didn’t then offer reparations, but instead they are moving to also be symbolically diverse. It is diversity without equity. It is the same praxis you liberationist revolutionaries find so appalling about Bernie Sander’s telling us to drop “Identity Politicking.” It is a very white male cishetero approach to diversity without inclusion. It is damn embarrassing watch it fall out your mouths, in your replies, or your tweets.
That having fought so hard against these vainglorious notions when it is any other cishetero white male, or politician, that slap a revolutionary title on there, and all sins forgiven. Today’s, apparent, Castro replacement is Matt McGrory. He walks the walk, talks the talk, but again when he starts doing things “for the revolution” and demands that we all accept his liberation or be silenced, then you might see the dangers of it. That is a rather large false equivalency, right? But what I mean is to say Fidel can’t be #WokeBae, he lost that right some time ago. Please, by all means embrace his legacy, but do so with all of it.
This reminds me, on some small level, the week I had to avoid humanity. When Reagan died. The whole world, everyone fell over themselves to laud and applaud him. No TV, no going out in public where I might spit on the Daily News Cover at the bodega. Or otherwise embarrass myself with the glee turned to foaming rage over the whole world ignoring the man’s truest legacy. Then about a week later after that plastic carcass had been hauled out of the Nation’s Capital and buried, the Village Voice excoriated him. As they should, as we all should.
Yet hold Assata up, but remember while she was in exile there, working on that dog-eared autobiography you hold, Reinaldo Arenas was here writing ‘Before Night Falls.’ A work so profoundly majestic it literally wore me out reading it. That upon closing the book I wept for hours. No other book has ever triggered that reaction.
So my revolutionaries know that listening to you today was like listening at the height of the allegations against Cosby, about how he was America’s Dad, and he’d done so much, and his legacy, or it is just those evil people trying to bring him down. Honestly Cuba was not trying to buy NBC. Don’t let his conspiracy theories become your defense.
I know that the world is weak
And must soon fall to the ground,
Then the gentle brook will speak
Above the quiet profound.
While trembling with joy and dread,
I have touched with hand so bold
A once-bright star that fell dead
From heaven at my threshold.
On my brave heart is engraved
The sorrow hidden from all eyes:
The son of a land enslaved,
Lives for it, suffers and dies.
All is beautiful and right,
All is as music and reason;
And all, like diamonds, is light
That was coal before its season.
I know when fools are laid to rest
Honor and tears will abound,
And that of all fruits, the best
Is left to rot in holy ground.
To my thinking (and critique alone) Fidel Castro was more a friend to the revolution, than he was a real revolutionary. That to make him responsible (as I’ve seen) for an end to Apartheid and liberation of Namibia/Angola seems too broad a brushstroke and not nearly masterful enough to be a reach. Strangely the best eulogy was from a Namibian paper, which goes to great lengths to embody what he meant (and less of what he was)
“May the Cuban people feel consoled by the knowledge that Comandante-en-Jefe Castro Ruz lived his life in service of the oppressed and for the self-determination of the Americas and Africa.
May his revolutionary spirit continue to underwrite and inspire the progressive forces to continue demanding economic justice and shared prosperity in an equitable world order,” Geingob said.
It is precisely these very specific actions that weren’t heralded in the raging tweets or the fog of hagiography. His ideals should be honored, but not apart or completely as an excuse for what a terrible person he was at times. These same people have nuanced critiques of the President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and any other world leader. To spare Castro, because you had a poster of him up in your teenage bedroom or your dorm, is unconscionable. Many of the responses were from fully grown folks too, who if they’ve not revisited his legacy, but are floating on what they’ve read in the Black Power movements, need to separate his force in the Americas (and Africa), from what he did at home. He colonized and exported the revolution. How much like defending your fave from rape threats, personal and domestic violence, and other things does this have to butt up against before you to take a moment?
Fidel Castro, the leader, was many things, but he was also an abusive tyrant who just happened to do so in the name of the Revolution. No less appalling than men who critique Black Lives Matter, because it was a ground swell, led by Black Women & Queers. Bashing it for the likes of the ashy Hotep ones they prefer, and tell us that is why everything is so messed up. BLM is accepting and open. Far from the closed systems of a latin american revolution from the 60s. Full of machismo and the stench of cishetero patriarchy masquerading as Revolution which chokes like cigar fumes. It was literally the Pick Me Twitter & Patrairchal Patties. The Becky with the Good Berets.
If when you look at Cuban leadership now, fifty years post-revolution, and you don’t see women in positions of power or queers, then your revolution might as well sound like “hurry up & wait.” It is 2016, and I’ve already about 25 things to nitpick with Raoul’s daughter and Shelia Nevins at HBO for their coming queer doc on Cuba set to drop on Monday. Let’s not put the cart before the horse however. Instead let us ask if they removed the “structural” and “State-sponsored” components of racial and sexist discrimination then why have they not progressed? Let me quote the current Cuban President for you:
“Personalmente considero que es una vergüenza el insuficiente avance en esta materia en 50 años de Revolución” – Raoul Castro
(Personally, I consider the insufficient advance on this matter in 50 years of Revolution to be a disgrace.)
Taking a moment instead to be glad he is dead, glad for the acts of courage in the face of chorus of boos, and not forget that his particular version of revolution was not very revolutionary. That was systemic, endemic, both explicit & implicit. To say anything else is a lie, and you should know better.
There are two things I’m fond of saying: Wish we had a Cuban Twitter to center in this discussion, voices to listen to. This excludes those privileged ones here, with axes to grind and smuggled out stories of their relations still there. They can argue among themselves, or go back and change it, or help our new American regime overthrow it. For to hear the glories and the guts of the real Cuban people, not as some cultural passerby or tourist trying to soak it all up like an interloping white savior at Standing Rock, when utterly unable to juxtapose it against both my experiences of queer and race struggles here.
The other is a paraphrase of a well worn (you could even say hackneyed) aphorism: Revolutionaries always turn out to be as bad as the ones they replace. Many of you, I’ve seen with your Bayard Rustin memes. Bless You. How did he die? What were his last years like? Oh, don’t recall…let me refresh that for you against the considerable erasure that happened in order to make way for the hagiography. He was reviled, just like MLK. He’d aligned forces with very BernieBro forces of the Union, and thought (like Castro) we just needed to put this race (and sex) issue aside and focus on class. Yep, that’s the ticket. That is how he went out. But we don’t recall that and it doesn’t fit very neatly into a graphic we can share.
Please stop totemically or iconically invoking these people. Engage with them. Perhaps I’m odd that way, and have been since I could open a book. No matter who or what my affinity fell upon, it did so critically, and far from robbing me of a joy or their wisdom, honestly made me dream of worlds better than they had either created or sought. Ones where Black women lead the charge. Femmes and Queers/Trans of Color, and disabled, all uniting in a majority minority coalition that honestly thinks of the least of us. That embodies the phrase: Until we are all free, none of us have freedom.
Stop letting Fidel Castro occupy a space that looks suspiciously like a White Savior Complex. Stop letting his ability to photo-op, and get column space, talking points, or run a newscycle be your guide. Not too terribly unlike our President-Elect’s style of populism if we are keeping it fully 100. They both have their apologists, who are in direct conflict, and deeply vested in normalizing their brand affinity. That doesn’t make it right or revolutionary.
That those with the most to lose, those on the margin, those not backed by the Global Empire of America paying close attention to its desires (like the Cuban-American and exiles here), those who were inspired by, or benefited by his military backing. His press-ops or taking up their cause in what can only be called a global news Exposure Trolling long before that was a thing.
That the wars, both on the ground and the cold varietals, cost the least among us. That women and the hungry kids, and the fights he was sure would bring liberation. They didn’t really work. They inspired much, but accomplished little. That at the end of his life he was sitting in his nice house, on a golf course, reading in a track suit. One probably made by sweat-shop workers. Almost unrecognizable if transplanted to Southern Florida from those who revile him. The same ones that danced in the streets.
Let us, with glad hearts remember what he wanted, respect his dogged commitment, well-beyond what was right or just. That he got lost along the way, and that is okay. That our heroes are sometimes great big disappointments, and that is okay too. Let die with him this messianic male leadership. This old model, that didn’t really ever help anyone, and we know it. Humanize him, warts and all. Let us trade him in for the erased voices, for the others who he inspired. Some of them got it wrong too. Let us interrogate why they failed without just saying, oh well, the house always wins.
The system is rigged. Most definitely rigged to make us either for or against, a zero-sum losing proposition, when these are actually ecosystems. These are atmospheres, and many things connected we aren’t even able to consciously perceive. That let us openly embrace them, messy as they were, without it being a reflection on us personally. Tilt your beret, pat your Afro, smooth your fatigues or camo, and then get to work.
Yet meet the people where the fuck they are. Don’t expect because you’re read and learned, that your way is best. Ruling by an elite class looks the same on everyone. Tacky. That isn’t what activism does. That isn’t what a revolutionary does. Wanna be a populist rabble-rouser, then go on, rest of us got work to do. The hard work of feeding, caring, and cleaning up for the revolutions. The things considered woman’s work. Like keeping the babies safe and fed. Not boycotting or embargoing shit to make a point. Economic bootstrapping by self-reliance. How exactly have all those worked out so far? In a system that is rigged against you. Sounds like prosperity gospel, and your side-hustle is showing in that tweet you just sent promoting your stuff for #SmallBizSaturday.
You can’t smash the system by trying to beat it at its game. If you think you can, you probably are also just about to buy NBC, before your haters dig up some dirt. Rub some shea butter on that or something.
These are new times, unlike those of the past, yet we needn’t discard out of hand (like millennials do all the time) anything just because it seems outdated. It is time to reboot it, to help lean-startup-iterate our way to success. Revolutions are the OG startups. That comes from listening to a wealth of unaffiliated, underpaid, and often overlooked voices. They are the ones who will lead us, that have been leading us, but we choose to put it aside and focus instead on fact-checking in a post-truth world while sharing memes. We deride or tone-police, gaslight, and tell them it is all in their heads.
Until of course they are proven right, and then everyone runs with it, and the originator gets no credit. Welcome to a revolution in the Attention Economy. “Justice Together” or “Campaign Zero” — in the words of Mariah Carey, I don’t know her. To quote my House Muva: We don’t see them.
The ferocious heart that beat inside that Cuban chest, one pounding from a concoction of Cafe Con Leche and Cigar Smoke was fierce. It wasn’t particularly smart though. It wasn’t full-fledged white mediocrity either. That the same man who rode in on a tank, can go out with a whimper.
Let us praise him, while acknowledging we have done better since, will do better in the future, and that let this man finally reach some peace. That those shouting about what a terrible man he is, also probably voted in hate and bigotry and want also to roll this country back to the 50s. Not all of them, that would be unkind. They are not monolithic, and there are ones out there who can tell you what it is like. We’ve not heard from them yet, they are at least 20 years behind the rest of us and the technological revolution, the new information economies, and when they raise up: LET US HEAR THEM SING!
My rambling stream-of-consciousness (actually they were subtweets of what I was seeing firsthand) threaded tweets on Castro:
This post was made possible by the generous often quite vociferous and loud debate that sprung up on Abby’s Facebook post. Combined with what was seen on Twitter, it culminated in this rather large unpacking of the apologia that many had for the one-time revolutionary.