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Three years ago, Heriberto Espino, the Afro-Cuban president of the Fernando Ortiz Foundation in Havana, talked to me and a group of black journalists about realities in Cuba.

Racism, he said, is a problem. But, he said, Cubans want to fix the problem themselves.

“We want to change it,” Espino said. “And we want you [black Americans] to help us.”

Notice Espino said help. Not isolate. And in his view help means more black Americans like hip-hop artist Jay-Z and his wife, Beyonce, coming to see and connect with Cubans on the island.

The kind of help they don’t want, he said, is from people whose main goal it is to use their struggles to usurp their system.

By that Espino meant they don’t want help from Castro-obsessed Cuban-American lawmakers like Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, both Republicans from Florida, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

They don’t want help from those who have insisted on maintaining a decades-old economic embargo and travel ban that has done more to ratchet up misery among the mostly-black population and little to topple Fidel Castro’s regime.

So it was especially bizarre to see those lawmakers, as well as a few other Cuban-Americans, proclaim to be on the side of Cubans such as Espino in lambasting Jay-Z and Beyonce for visiting the island to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary earlier this month.

It was bizarre because in criticizing the superstar couple, their own racism and condescension shone through, with Ros-Lehtinen implying that Jay-Z and Beyonce lacked common sense for spending money that will go into the regime’s coffers, and Rubio saying that Jay-Z needed to get educated.

And Cuban-American film director Phil Lord penned a letter basically saying that Jay-Z was too ignorant to understand the damage his visit did.

What arrogance.

First of all, Jay-Z is not ignorant. He’s a guy who rose from selling drugs on the streets to become a multi-millionaire.

On top of that, he’s obviously intelligent enough to go see a place, especially one that is filled with people who look like him, and share a common history with him, for himself – and not take the word of people who care more about Cold War politics than Cubans on the island.

Besides that, the Carters aren’t the only U.S. celebrities who have visited Cuba in recent years. Robert Redford showed the film, “The Motorcycle Diaries,” on the life of revolutionary icon Che Guevara, in Havana in 2009. Leonardo DeCaprio has visited. So has Sean Penn.

Yet none of Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s anti-Castro detractors implied that these white celebrities lacked common sense, or needed to be educated, or were ignorant.

Wonder why?

And let’s talk common sense, shall we?

Ros-Lehtinen blasted Jay-Z and Beyonce` for spending money in Cuba. Well guess what? According to the Havana Consulting Group, whose data was recently quoted in a USA Today column by my colleague, DeWayne Wickham, Cuban-Americans sent nearly $2.3 billion in remittances to their relatives in 2011.

Call me naïve, but I’m guessing that’s much more than what Jay-Z and Beyonce spent in a week to keep the Castro brothers rolling in dough. On top of that, where does Ros-Lehtinen think Cubans spent those billions?

At Walt Disney World?

In trying to say that Jay-Z doesn’t get it, what critics of the Carters’ visit really reveal is how much they don’t get it.

They don’t get the fact that Cubans, most of whom are black or mixed race, want engagement, not isolation.

Most of all, they don’t get that the same kind of paternalistic attitudes that they have been directing toward Jay-Z and Beyonce` for visiting the island is the same kind of paternalism that turns black Cubans like Espino off; the attitude that says they know what black Cubans need without talking to them, or by vilifying anyone who visits the island and talks to them.

So I hope Jay-Z and more black celebrities, artists, educators and others travel to Cuba. Just as our interaction as black journalists did, their interaction can help black Cubans garner ideas about how to deal with racism and how to forge a future that will largely be in their hands once the Castro regime ends.

Without being forced to accept a future imposed by condescending outsiders that will surely take them back to a past that, for all intents and purposes, didn’t work for them.

Tonyaa Weathersbee is an award-winning columnist based in Jacksonville, Fla. Follow her @tonyaajw. Or like her on Facebook at

(Photo: AP)

Beyonce and Jay-Z Hit Havana
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9 thoughts on “Objections to Jay-Z, Beyonce Cuba Trip More Condescending Than Caring

  1. Barbara on said:

    The criticism of their trip to Cuba has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that they are black. Rather, it has to do with the fact that they are celebrities who think they are above the law. U.S.-Cuban relations are changing, but the law prohibiting American citizens from vacationing in Cuba and spending money there is still very much intact. If a regular, non-wealthy, non-celebrity American decided to do the same as Jay-Z and Beyoncé, they put themselves in extremely high risk of being caught and having to fork over several thousand dollars to the U.S. government. By all rights, Jay-Z and Beyoncé should have to pay the same price, but since they are wealthy celebrities, they have so far evaded this. The law will probably change in the not-so-distant future, but that’s no excuse for their actions.

    Also, I find it ironic that you said Jay-Z went to a country “that is filled with people who look like him” when in reality, the vast majority of Cubanos are white. Yes, there are many black Cubans, but the racial demographics are still overwhelmingly white. Had you actually looked this up, you could have spared yourself the embarrassment.

    This entire post is filled with ignorance. Go and get educated before you parade around, pretending to know something.

    • Barbara on said:

      Oh, and in regards to your comments about “white celebrities” not getting backlash for visiting Cuba, well, that was poorly researched as well. Many white celebrities over the years have been very much criticized for doing so. However, the ones that you mentioned were not because unlike Jay Z and Beyoncé, they had gained prior permission and written authorization from the U.S. government before doing so. Going to Cuba on business (such as filming a movie) is a lot different than taking a vacation there. If you actually bothered to read the laws regarding travel to Cuba, you’d see that people can in fact get permits to go to Cuba– providing they are going there for non-vacation/non-tourism reasons.

      It’s people like you who make those of us in the black community look so damn stupid sometimes. You just look for racism wherever you can, without bothering to find the truth (and an obvious one at that) first.

  2. Being a millionaire does not make you intelligent, especially in these days and times when ignorant, uneducated bafoonery is the norm.

  3. Great article. I wish more of the media would be this informative and independent instead of simply reproducing someone else’s version of the story.

  4. Gaywrites on said:

    First of all, Jay-Z is not ignorant. He’s a guy who rose from selling drugs on the streets to become a multi-millionaire.

    First of all Jay-Z is not a crackhead he just makes them. He is a guy that sould be imortalized as an alternative role model, husband, thus man, whom just happens to have a knack to earn money (somehow). Basically he isn’t the run of the mill nigga-word like the rest of ýou(in quotations). Thank you.

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