IT WAS YEARS AGO when Clarence Long was Maryland's congressional representative from the 2nd District. One night at a community forum, a questioner brought up the matter of the United States' normalizing relations with Fidel Castro's Cuba.
"It presents a possibility for trades," the questioner said. "For deals, for baseball."
Long pooh-poohed the idea of normal relations with Cuba. This week, we learned that President Clinton wants to normalize relations with Cuba. Our own Baltimore Orioles may be the ones that open the "possibility for baseball." (I like the Cubans in five games.) But there are still those opposed to normalizing relations with Cuba. Americans can't get over that Castro hurdle.
The Cuban jefe has been called a thorn in America's side for 40 years, as he showed in the 1980 Mariel boat lift, when he dumped the dregs of Cuban society on the United States. We self-righteously claim he's a brutal dictator who's trampled on human rights, as if we have a problem with those types.
American presidents schmoozed with Soviet communist dictators, normalized relations and opened trade with Chinese communist dictators and never met a right-wing dictator they didn't like. Our own CIA trained the Honduran military in torture techniques. We look a little silly lecturing Castro on the subject of human rights abuses.
So what's America's real beef with Castro? He took power in 1959 and had the gall to act as if Cuba belonged to Cubans, not Yankees. He took over prime territory that America's mobsters thought belonged exclusively to them. His government has all but eliminated illiteracy, provided free health care for the poor and established an educational system that is free through college.
Castro eliminated overt racial discrimination in Cuba within months of coming to power. This was at a time when America's elected officials at the federal level weren't sure eliminating discrimination against blacks in the United States was even desirable, much less attainable.
Castro has held himself up as a champion of racial equality for years. There are many who dispute the claim. Castro, they say, jails as many young black men as America does. One reporter charged that Castro told a group of American blacks that Cuban blacks were especially good at music and athletics. (And you wondered why every Cuban government official you see is light-skinned Hispanic and every Cuban athlete you see is black.)
Carlos Moore, author of "Castro, the Blacks and Africa" said that Castro's commitment to racial equality is nothing more than liberal paternalism, that he eliminated decades old black self-help organizations soon after he came to power and that Hispanic officials of his government were, in the 1960s, terrified of the Afro hairstyle and sought to prevent Cuba's blacks from wearing it.
Americans should see an opportunity for sweet revenge in normalizing relations with Cuba. White Americans have charged for years that black Americans have become more nationalistic, more ethnocentric and more anti-white since the Black Power movement of the 1960s.
Don't lament that situation, Caucasian brethren. Use it. Use it. Look at it this way: Why should you be the only ones to suffer?
Let's normalize relations with Cuba. Then let's have America's most nationalistic, ethnocentric, anti-white blacks visit Cuba and encourage them to stay a while. They might advise their Cuban brothers that the Afro hairstyle is making a comeback. They could teach them the benefits of Afrocentrism. They might have a chat with Fidel and say, "Jefe, my man. We want a word with you about that 'blacks can only be athletes and musicians' crack."
Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan could open a series of mosques on the island. Silis Muhammad - the other Nation of Islam leader, and no, I don't have the space to explain - could open up a few more. (Can you imagine Castro's reaction to a march of 1 million black men in Havana?) There might soon follow a Havana branch of the NAACP, along with demands for affirmative action plans.
In fact, Moore noted in his book that Cuban blacks have demanded "proportional representation" in government positions. The Cuban government has steadfastly refused, which shows that Castro and his crew have more in common with America's conservative Republicans than either group would feel comfortable admitting.
African-Americans do, indeed, have certain cultural traditions that could drive the Castro government downright crazy. Americans, white and black, should remember the Mariel boat lift and remind Castro of a favorite black American cultural truism:
Payback is a bitch.