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(WOMENSENEWS)--Black Cubans have long been told by Cuban authorities that they do not need places to express the problems of race and class because there are no such problems: they have all been solved by the Revolution. Nevertheless, black Cubans do face all manner of discrimination in contemporary Cuba.
With few formal political outlets open to young black Cubans, hip hop has emerged on the island as a powerful form of political expression; a kind of "theater of the oppressed" that addresses the racial and economic problems encountered by black Cubans. The all-female group Las Krudas stands out as particularly courageous within this hip-hop scene.
My interviews with them, among 23 conducted with women of African descent, sketch a portrait of a striking phenomenon: the emergence of a strongly oppositional, black, feminist activist art in Cuba.
Although Las Krudas cannot represent the experiences of all black women on the island, they occupy a unique position within a growing black hip-hop intelligentsia. While their activities and lyrics point to specific issues of contemporary concern around the politics of race and gender in Cuba, they differ from U.S. black female rappers and their Cuban male contemporaries in that they unwaveringly advance a feminist agenda in which they seek to politicize the social and economic reality of being black and female in Cuba. Las Krudas therefore call attention to the situation of black women in a social and political context that denies the existence of racism, sexism, status and privilege.
Despite Las Krudas' members' increasingly important position as feminists within the Cuba hip-hop culture, they share with U.S. female rappers a frustrating invisibility. In both Cuba and in the United States, women as fans, advocates and artists in hip hop are virtually ignored in discussions of the phenomenon. Both in the United States and in Cuba, male artists have been touted for the political awareness and resistant nature of their rap lyrics. For example, male rappers in both the United States and Cuba protest and criticize the multiple ways the black male body and masculinity is policed and surveilled. By contrast, many themes dominant in black female rappers' lyrics in both the United States and Cuba articulate and-or question hegemonic notions of femininity and black female sexuality.
Although in their lyrics many black U.S. female rappers defend women against sexist assumptions and misogynist assertions made by their black male counterparts, and they attempt to build their female audience's self-esteem and raise consciousness levels in efforts to encourage solidarity among women, most perceive feminism to be a movement specifically related to white women. In solidarity with black men, many U.S. black female rappers refuse to identify or affiliate themselves with a movement that is perceived as speaking largely to heterosexual, white, upper middle-class women's concerns.
Unlike their North American counterparts, Las Krudas readily identify themselves as feminists and refuse to relinquish their strong critiques of the nature and effects of Cuban patriarchy on the lives of marginalized women. Las Krudas' lyrics encourage black women to reject the racism and sexism of patriarchal notions of femininity and they seek to raise the self-esteem of their female audiences. Many U.S. black female rappers do the same, but Las Krudas' open embrace of feminist ideals makes them unique in the world of hip hop.
This open embrace of feminism by Las Krudas has caused problems for them within the state-controlled music marketing entity. One example of the racially inflected sexism routinely experienced by the group occurred during the planning of the all-women's concert where I first saw them perform. The hip-hop agency that organized the concert is state-subsidized and run by a white man and a black woman. The agency did not want to have to pay any of the groups or artists that they did not represent (which, in this case, included all the female rapera groups in this all-women's concert).
In addition, the director of the theater where the concert was taking place pushed for the inclusion of men on the stage even though the concert was intended to feature female artists exclusively. For instance, he tried to force the female rappers to incorporate male dancers and rappers into their acts, something Las Krudas resisted.
Ultimately, Las Krudas prevailed and successfully performed their own original, pro-woman songs, without the "enhancement" of male dancers. Las Krudas member Odaymara, aka Pasa Kruda, notes that the hip-hop world in Cuba is very sexist: "the rap world is (hmmmmph!) tan fuerte, so strong. Muy machista, muy, muy, muy: Very sexist, very, very, very."
Odaymara explained that she was annoyed and angered at the women's concert not only because of the way the organizers treated the female rappers but also because while the men (of the hip-hop world) showed up, their presence was perceived as counterproductive; the men never lent any real support to the women's cause according to Las Krudas. Also, regarding the other female rappers at the concert, Las Krudas member Olivia, aka Pelusa, noted while the women were very good interpreters of text, los textos were not written by them but by men.
Las Krudas agreed that the feminist movement as well as the hip-hop movement in Cuba has a "long way to go. Long, long, long."
From "Getting In is Not Enough," edited by Colette Morrow and Terri Ann Fredrick. Copyright 2013 by The Johns Hopkins University Press. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.
Fari Nzinga is a Ph.D. candidate in cultural anthropology at Duke University. She currently works as an independent writer and research consultant. Colette Morrow sat on the editorial board of Feminist Formations from 2002 to 2012, served as president of the National Women's Studies Association (U.S.) and is a Senior Fulbright Scholar. Terri Ann Fredrick is an associate professor of English at Eastern Illinois University. Proceeds from the book go to Feminist Formations, formerly The NWSA Journal, and are applied to publishing costs.
Jeanne Theoharis is a professor of political science at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. She received her AB in Afro-American studies from Harvard College and a Ph.D. in American culture from the University of Michigan. She is the author or coauthor of six books and numerous articles on the black freedom struggle and the contemporary politics of race in the United States.
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