Wed 7 Apr, 2010
Tags: Cuba, D'Wolf family, Fidel Castro, Slave trade
This is new.
In my work, I frequently encounter push-back to the effect that talking about the history and legacy of slavery and race is counter-productive, because this history is now irrelevant and discussing it only encourages racial divisions and a mentality of victimh0od. A cursory glance at the facts shows this logic to be fatally flawed, but this view is nevertheless quite common.
To my knowledge, however, this is the first time that anyone has proclaimed that I, and what I do, are “sheer evil.”
This opinion comes courtesy of a blogger named Jorge Costales, who is a professional CPA in Miami, Fla., and who is livid about the current Associated Press story about my trip to Cuba.
While Mr. Costales’ argument isn’t entirely coherent, and is riddled with factual errors, it centers around what appears to be a genuine and profound concern about political repression in Cuba. As near as I can tell, he seems to be offering—and conflating—two distinct claims in his ad hominem attacks on me.
First, he condemns me because he believes the A.P. reporter has quoted me as saying that the family slave-trading business was “pure evil,” while I’m not similarly quoted condemning the present Cuban government. Second, he seems to believe that Katrina Browne and I made our “own pact with another version of evil” by striking some sort of self-serving bargain with the authorities in Cuba.
Now, let’s leave aside the fact that the first claim offered by Mr. Costales depends entirely on his repeatedly mis-quoting me as calling the D’Wolf slave trading empire “pure evil,” while in fact the article instead quotes Katrina as calling that business “sheer evil.” In the end, this distinction is hardly important, for I have no problem with what Katrina said. Let’s also ignore that Mr. Costales seems to be basing his second claim on his equally mistaken belief that we were in Cuba trying to film a documentary.
The problem with the first claim is that Mr. Costales has let his strong desire to castigate the Castro regime lead him into a vehement, personal attack against someone who, as far as he knows, may well share his views about the Cuban government. I simply don’t know why he reads any significance into the fact that Will Weissert, the journalist writing the article, didn’t devote space, in a story about my slave-trading ancestors, to quoting my views on contemporary Cuban politics. Does Mr. Costales believe that it is evil to do historical research in Cuba without speaking out publicly against the Cuban government? If so, does he really assume that I didn’t do so, simply because it wasn’t mentioned in one of the press stories covering my visit?
The difficulty with the second claim is equally obvious. I have no reason to believe that Mr. Costales condemns all travel to Cuba, even if specifically approved in advance by the U.S. government and conducted solely for historical and educational purposes. Instead, his argument appears to hinge on his specific grievance that we must have “sold out” by striking a deal with the Cuban government for … well, for what, exactly, he doesn’t say. It’s not at all clear what sort of benefits we might have bargained for, or why the Cuban government would want to offer us anything in exchange for our silence … especially since Mr. Costales, in another gratuitous attack, also states that I must be a “fellow traveler” sympathetic to the Castro regime, in which case, why would the Cubans need to silence me in the first place?
Certainly, in traveling to Cuba last month for the second time in my adult life, I encountered U.S. citizens who were there in violation of the U.S. embargo against Cuba. I also met U.S. citizens who were in the country legally, but who were enthusiastic in their praise of the current Cuban government. I could understand if Mr. Costales were speaking out against either phenomenon, on the grounds that he believes such activities lend unwarranted support to a regime he detests, and are thus, by his lights, “evil.” I just don’t understand what in the world he believes I’ve done to merit that label.