I, like many Black Americans, grew up in a household that supported Fidel Castro and the decades he spent fighting imperial powers. To me, he was not reduced to just being a dictator, nor was he merely a man in a green military suit with a cigar. I am well aware of the thousands of Cuban Americans in Miami who are celebrating the death of a man they view as a brutal dictator whom caused familial separations and economic hardships. However, when I look at the life of Castro, a man who stayed in Harlem whenever he visited the U.S., a man who Mandela and Gaddafi considered a brother in arms fighting colonialism and imperialism and promoting liberation movements across the world, I am saddened by the death of one of the last freedom fighters for people of color and oppressed people around the globe.
As leader of a tiny country just 90 miles from Florida, Castro was able to stave off several attempts on his life by the U.S. government. He outlasted 10 American presidents and the subsequent economic sanctions that severely crippled many of his initiatives. However, despite the financial sanctions imposed by the U.S. (while this country operates an illegal torture prison on Cuban land at Guantanamo Bay), Cuban has one of the highest literacy rates in the world, has more trained doctors and has hurricane preparedness expertise the U.S. should envy.
When reflecting on the successes of Cuba, it seems impossible for a communist nation to thrive in the shadow of capitalism. Thousands of white Cubans left the island when Castro took power and kicked out the Americans, casinos, mobsters and the like. When Castro was asked what surprised him most about the revolution and subsequent decades that followed, he often remarked on the enduring power of racism. He said he had underestimated the sheer will of racism as a global phenomenon. I think the American election of 2016 has served as a grave reminder of the enduring power of racism in this country (and across the world as well, as we witnessed Brexit and currently watch upcoming elections in France and other European nations).
In the weeks, months and years to come, scholars will analyze the significance of Castro on the idea of communism, American-Russian relations, Black versus white Cuban relations in Miami, generational divides between Cubans in America and so much more. There is no doubt that Castro was a polarizing figure who affected global history for decades. However, for those of us who care about fighting imperial powers, resisting hyper-capitalism and fighting for racial equity, I will remember Castro as a friend to Black people across the world. I will remember Castro as a fighter who stood up to American imperialist forces. I will remember Castro always.
Christina Greer, Ph. D., is an associate professor at Fordham University and the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream.” You can find her on Twitter @Dr_CMGreer.