HAVANA, Cuba. – “You are more likely to have a proposal accepted if you use fair-skin and blonde models than if you use Black models,” states Karina, a designer who has had the opportunity to work for various companies of Cuba’s Ministry of Tourism (MINTUR), and especially with entities that are part of the Armed Forces Economic Conglomerate (GAESA), like Gaviota S.A., where racism is more visible, almost like “an iron rule,” she adds.
Once in a while they will ask you to include a Black individual, but that is very rare, a formality to keep up appearances. If they don’t ask you, you best not do it because they will reject your work until you submit it with fair-skin models. (…) They will never say that’s the reason, they will simply tell you they don’t like what you have submitted, but one always knows what it’s all about,” continues Karina.
Rafael is another designer who has had similar experiences, although in his case it’s not only that his works are rejected if there are Black models in them, but also that he himself has felt discriminated as a Black Cuban, even though he is not seen in any of the images of his promotional proposals.
Although he graduated in 2014 as a graphic designer, with very good grades, it was impossible for him to remain as part of the permanent staff for the two tourism agencies (Palmares S.A. and Turarte) where he fulfilled the compulsory social service assignments and was released into the work force.
Rafael has no doubt that his “bad luck” was due to racism because, out of all the young designers that applied for permanent positions at the tourism employment pools and agencies –an indispensable requirement if one is opting for a job in this sector- only the fair-skin applicants had “better luck.” Only he and Danilo, another Black designer, were rejected probably for not fitting the “ideal corporate mold” of Gaviota S.A.
“Sometimes I was called for interviews, but I knew ahead of time that they would reject me,” says Rafael. “In 2016, I was hired for a job for Gran Caribe. I got it because I didn’t do the interview in person. I sent the proposal, I knew they would like it, and sure enough, they called me right away, but clearly, no Blacks in the piece, only lots of white folks. No Blacks
only light-skinned colored Cubans are allowed. And the usual: the light-skin Black Cuban woman next to a white, blond-hair hunk, in her role as a young prostitute, a jineterita. Local color as long as it’s whitewashed. No high contrast. That is the norm, no matter who you work for. And if it’s for Gaviota, it’s worse. At Gaviota, Blacks are like the plague. You only need to look at their social media. It looks like Norway. The only time I worked with them, I developed the whole publicity campaign with Black models, without benefit of keratin, it was scandalous. I did it on purpose. There was even a stupid guy who made a joke about it: ‘When have you seen a Black seagull?’ I wanted to smash his face in right then and there,” Rafael ends his story. He adds that in order to guarantee himself a stable job, and to have a better chance of being accepted, he decided to join a group of designer friends and work with them independently.