by Asantewaa Nkrumah-Ture
Lots of unexpected names turned up as signatories to a letter charging the Cuban government with systematic discrimination against Blacks. Among those who committed the foul injustice against Cuba, and shamed themselves, was Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama’s former pastor. A fellow member of the United Church of Christ asks, respectfully, that the minister explain himself.
Why Defame Cuba? A Congregant’s Plea to Rev. Jeremiah Wright
by Asantewaa Nkrumah-Ture
Ms. Nkrumah-Ture, a long-time activist and a member of the Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ in Washington, DC, wrote the following letter to Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright, Pastor Emeritus of Trinity United Church of Christ, in Chicago. Rev Wright is, of course, the former pastor to Barack Obama and one of 60 African American signatories to a recent letter charging the Cuban government with systematic racism against the island nation’s Black and mixed race population. Rev. Wright had visited Ms. Nkrumah-Ture’s church just the week before. – The Editors
“I pray you will do the right thing and demand that your name be removed from that awful letter.”
Dear Rev. Wright:
Praise the Lord and welcome to Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ! Many thanks to you for being in revival with us this week!
I am writing to you because I am very concerned about issues of social justice, in this country and throughout the world. When I first joined PCUCC, under the bold and courageous leadership of Rev. Graylan Hagler, Senior Minister and Sis. Rev. Rebecca West, Associate Minister, I was so excited and quickly joined the Board of Social Action, the social justice ministry here. I was especially excited to be a member of the United Church of Christ, the most progressive Christian denomination in the U.S. When I read its website, I saw they were very involved in various issues of social justice that I too had been involved in for many years, effecting the people of Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Central and South America, the Pacific Islands; racism, women’s rights and reproductive justice, health care, environmental justice, immigrant rights, unions, nuclear weapons, etc. Which brings me to why I am writing this letter and I hope you will clarify something for me.
Here in Washington, DC, I am an active member of No War On Cuba Movement, a local coalition that came together several years ago to give consistent, unconditional support to the people of Cuba, their socialist revolution, their leaders and their right to sovereignty. We stand firmly and uncompromisingly against the U.S. embargo and its continued harassment and immoral attempts at destabilization. Many of us have also visited Cuba several times over the years. However, back in December 2009, I came across a most disturbing letter, “Acting on Our Conscience: A Declaration of African-American Support for the Civil Rights Struggle in Cuba.” After I finished reading the letter, I was shocked at such a misleading, out-of-context accusation of racism against our beloved Cuba; I was even more shocked and disappointed to see the many sisters and brothers who signed on to such a letter, including other members of the UCC such as Sis. Dr. Iva Carruthers, Sis. Rev. Yvonne Delk and Sis. Makani Themba-Nixon, who is also a member of Plymouth CUCC. I was absolutely floored to see your name on the letter, the very last name on the list.
“Did someone lie to you, mislead you or trick you into signing on to such a letter?”
Rev. Wright, I was very disappointed because I thought that I had heard you make very strong, supportive statements about Cuba over the many years I have enjoyed your powerful sermons. I thought I had heard you say something to the effect of, “the United States should not bully other countries . . . it should leave Cuba alone”, etc. Did I hear you correctly? I recall you visited Cuba in 1984 with a group that included Rev. Jesse Jackson and others. Has something changed for you since then? If so, what? Why would your name be on such a letter, given that the UCC has consistently been calling for the U.S. to end its embargo and seek normal relations with Cuba? For example, “. . . we are convinced that it is time to change the ineffective and counter-productive U.S. policy toward Cuba . . . we urge you to move to end the embargo on Cuba . . . ” a statement from (former UCC General Minister and President) “John Thomas and Sharon Watkins Sign Cuba Travel Policy Letter to Obama,” dated December 18, 2008, with the subtitle, “Religious Leaders Call For Change in Cuba Travel Policy.”
Another statement reads, “Fifty years is enough already! It’s time to end this legacy of isolation and time to start engaging our neighbor.” This statement is taken from the National Day of Action for Cuba on September 30, 2009, written by the Latin America Working Group, dated August 13, 2009. Both of these statements are taken from the website, “Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ.” Are you now saying that you disagree with these positions coming from the leadership of the UCC? If so, why and why now?
Respectfully, Rev. Wright, how exactly did your name get on that most unfortunate [“Acting on Our Conscience”] letter? Did someone place your name on the letter without your permission? Did you read the letter before you signed it? Did you help write it? Did someone lie to you, mislead you or trick you into signing on to such a letter? Did someone persuade you to sign on to such a letter because they or you disagree with Cuba’s socialist path of development and its many successes in improving the quality of life for all its citizens? Did someone suggest that you sign the letter because certain other people were signing on as well? Also, have you visited Cuba since 1984? Respectfully, these are very important questions that I hope you will answer.
I had the greatest joy of visiting Cuba in 1993. After years of study, I had an excellent opportunity to work with the people, visit with them, and learn from them. I visited schools, clinics, stores, museums, churches, etc. I visited people in their homes
and enjoyed their wonderful hospitality. I met elders who remembered what life was like before the revolution and enjoyed a life of comfort and dignity since the revolution. I met elementary school students who enjoyed meeting people from other countries. I met high school students who were excited about learning, spoke many languages and enjoyed sports. I also met college students who were diligent in their studies to become teachers, engineers, doctors, nurses, diplomats, etc., and they were shocked to hear that in the U.S. we still have to pay huge amounts of money to get a college education since education there is free. Did you and the other signers of the letter know about the world class, full scholarship program of the Latin American School of Medicine? Did you know that it accepts and graduates students of color and low income students from Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa and the U.S.? Did you know that 17 students from the U.S. have already graduated, most of them students of color?
“Why are so many Black people in prison in the United States?”
While in Cuba, I also met people who told of having serious illnesses or injuries, but they got excellent, high-quality health care and did not have to pay for such care. Perhaps it is hard for us in the U.S. to imagine going to the doctor, having surgery, getting medication, being treated for HIV/AIDS, etc., without worrying how we will pay for it all; they don’t have to worry about maxing out a credit card or going into bankruptcy to pay for medical bills. That to me is a life of dignity.
I also met many sisters and brothers of African descent, from the dark-skinned to the fair-skinned. No one I talked to denied there was racism in Cuba, but they did ask me pointed questions such as, “In the U.S., why are so many Black people homeless? Why are so many Black people in prison? Why do so many Black and Brown people get killed by the police? The U.S. talks about Cuba, but why do you have political prisoners like Mumia Abu Jamal, Leonard Peltier, etc? Why does the U.S. want to tell us how to live, how to run our country?”
So yes, we all say there is racism in Cuba; the Cuban people themselves have said so many times over the years. Fidel Castro has said there is racism in Cuba; his brother, current president Raul Castro has said there is racism (and sexism) 1in Cuba; the Communist Party of Cuba has said there is racism in Cuba; the Federation of Cuban Women has said there is racism (and sexism) in Cuba; even U.S. political prisoner Assata Shakur, who was given political asylum there has said there is racism in Cuba, but I would respectfully say that the racism in Cuba differs greatly from the racism in the U.S. in that the racism here is an institutionalized, regular feature of public policy.
Here in the U.S., why are so many African people unemployed and underemployed? Why have so many African people lost their homes to foreclosure and face bankruptcy due to huge medical bills and the loss of jobs? Why were Oscar Grant in California and Sean Bell in New York City killed by law enforcement and their killers not sent to prison? Why have the Tea Party folks run amuck? Why are African people profiled for DWB (Driving While Black), WWB (Walking While Black) or SWB (Shopping While Black)? Why is it that when African women and girls go missing, there is not a lot of media attention, but when White women and girls go missing, we get constant media coverage, Amber Alerts, search teams, etc? The list goes on and on, these are just some of the many examples of racism/White supremacy here in the U.S. that does not happen in Cuba.
“Racism in Cuba differs greatly from the racism in the U.S. in that the racism here is an institutionalized, regular feature of public policy.”
So I would say, yes, there is racism in Cuba, but due to the mass participation in their socialist revolution, they have the means and a deliberate process to help rid their country of racism and other forms of injustice such as sexism, classism/class privilege, homophobia, etc. Of course, we do not say things in Cuba are perfect, far from it. We also know about the Afro-Cuban dissidents that scream there is terrible racism in Cuba. But who are these people and where do they come from? Are they being paid to scream racism by the U.S. Interests Section? Additionally, the timing of that letter is suspicious. Now that the U.S. has its first African (Black) president in Barack Obama, do the counter-revolutionaries such as self-exiled Cuban Carlos Moore, et.al., now see this as their opportunity to spread manipulation, confusion, distortions and lies? Do you and the other signers of that letter even know Carlos Moore and his notorious history? Do Moore and his ilk seek to opportunistically manipulate well-intentioned, unknowing people? Does he seek to distract us from the case of the Cuban Five, five brave men unfairly imprisoned for non-violently infiltrating violent, anti-Cuba groups in Miami? The Cuban Five were trying to prevent violence; shouldn’t we all write letters to President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano demanding their release or, at the very least, demanding that their wives be allowed to come to the U.S. to visit them? They’ve been separated from their families for 12 years!
How can any politically aware, experienced African woman or man in the U.S. accuse Cuba of the kind of racism described in that letter, given Cuba’s history? How can anyone ignore Cuba’s contributions to Africa and her Diaspora? What about the thousands of brave Cuban troops who fought alongside the Angolan army, winning the decisive battle of Cuito Cuanavale against the invading South African troops, advancing further to the Namibian border, assuring victory? What about Cuba’s contribution to the safety and well-being of many U.S. political exiles such as Assata Shakur and others? What about Cuba’s offer to the U.S. to assist in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina? Why did the U.S. decline such a generous offer while the U.S. government has done little to help New Orleans rebuild? Did Cuba do all these things due to their racism? Does Cuba have increasing numbers of violent hate crimes against African people, people of color, immigrants, the homeless, LGBTQ folks the way we do here in the U.S., especially since Pres. Obama came into office? And what about those young immigrant Latino men, two different situations, each murdered by gangs of White male youth, chosen at random? Were the murderers found guilty and sent to jail? Why do these sad stories sound so familiar to African people in the U.S.?
“Does Cuba have increasing numbers of violent hate crimes against African people, people of color, immigrants, the homeless, LGBTQ folks the way we do here in the U.S.”
What about Cuba’s contribution to education and health care in Haiti? The Cubans have been there for years, long before the earthquake! Wasn’t it racist for President Obama to not only boycott the Durban II World Conference on Racism in Geneva, Switzerland in April 2009, but to sabotage it as well? Why did he call the Zionists, assuring them the U.S. would not attend? Did any of us write him letters or hold protests demanding that he send an official delegation? Why didn’t we demand that he do so? (Cuba attended both the World Conference on Racism in 2001 and the meeting last year in Geneva.) Are we afraid to protest against this country’s first African (Black) president, even when he is wrong and has committed war crimes? And what about Pres. Obama’s silence about the December 2008/January 2009 brutal Israeli assault on Gaza? Was that an example of his anti-Palestinian racism?
Isn’t it racist for the U.S. government, under the leadership of President Obama, to be engaged in illegal and immoral wars against Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, with threats to Iran, all of which are Muslim countries, people of color? Are any of the signers of the “Acting on Our Conscience” letter writing any letters to President Obama and members of Congress, demanding that the U.S. immediately end these wars? Did we write letters to President Obama and members of Congress when he announced his expansion of the war against Afghanistan? Did we read and take to heart, Dr. Martin Luther King’s courageous speech, “Beyond Vietnam,” where he clearly laid out his opposition to the Vietnam War? Why is it none of his colleagues, Lowery, Young, et.al., are actively involved in our current anti-war movement? Why is it that we don’t have any nationally known African (Black) preachers involved in the current anti-war movement? Shouldn’t we write them letters urging them to do so, in tribute to Dr. King?
Rev. Wright, under your courageous leadership, TUCC was one of the very few churches of our people that warmly welcomed our Lesbian and Gay sisters and brothers and their families, lovingly accepting them as they are. Shouldn’t we be organizing a letter-writing campaign to the government of President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, demanding that they must not pass the anti-gay death penalty legislation? It would criminalize not only homosexuality, but also HIV/AIDS prevention activists, thus hindering their important work. The legislation even seeks to apprehend Ugandans they suspect of being Lesbian or Gay, even if they live outside Uganda or even outside Africa. Are my friends and I at risk for harm because we are currently assisting a brother from Uganda as he seeks political asylum? Shouldn’t we write letters to those “Christian” preachers in Uganda that organize rallies carrying signs that say “Kill the Gays!” ?
“Why is it that we don’t have any nationally known African (Black) preachers involved in the current anti-war movement?”
Rev. Wright, I have always admired your courageous ministry. I will continue to look forward to your powerful, thought-provoking sermons and witty humor. But I plead with you, in the name of justice, of Mother Africa, of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, please, PLEASE do not allow yourself to be drawn into things that can cause great harm to our sisters and brothers of Cuba and their wonderful contributions to humanity. …
Rev. Wright, I say all these things respectfully, firmly and sincerely. Again, I plead with you to get more information, talk to some of us in the Cuba solidarity movement, arrange a series of face-to-face meetings or conference calls with officials from the Cuban Interest Section, or perhaps now is a good time to plan your next visit to Cuba. I also pray you will do the right thing and demand that your name be removed from that awful letter, just as Sis. Makani Themba-Nixon did, a few weeks after it first appeared. I hope you are willing to do these things, and if so, I promise to assist you in any way that I can. Thank you very much for your many years in ministry and thank you for your time and patience in reading this letter.
In Christ and In Struggle,
Sis. Asantewaa Nkrumah-Ture
cc: Sis. Dr. Iva Carruthers
Sis. Rev. Yvonne Delk
Sis. Makani Themba-Nixon
Editors’ note: Ms. Nkrumah-Ture reports that Rev. Wright replied to her letter, but confidentiality requires that she not divulge the contents.
Ms. Nkrumah-Ture can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.