Covid, Cuba, and Human Rights

by Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

As we approach what many people hope is the end of the COVID-19, or I should say the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, let us consider a few things that we need to think about. First, while it is imperative that everyone be vaccinated, we still do not have a vaccination against this virus for children. Second, coronaviruses mutate. There are over 200 head cold viruses and most of them are coronaviruses. So, SARS-CoV-2 is probably endemic, meaning that we will have to contend with it in some form in perpetuity. Remember the Influenza Pandemic of 1918 killed roughly 50,000,000 million people worldwide. Yet, we no longer fear the flu because the flu is easily diagnosed and treatable. So, here’s the skinny: We need a couple of highly successful treatments for SARS-CoV-2; and we also need a test that can be administered where any healthcare professional can tell you whether you tested positive or negative in a matter of minutes. We’re not quite there yet, so be careful. This brings me to the crisis unfolding in Cuba.

As a Black American historian with some Afro-Cuban roots, the island nation has always been of interest to me personally. As I type this, however, the romanticized idea of Cuba that so many of us Black Americans hold—myself included—is dissolving before our eyes as Cubans, and particularly Afro-Cubans, have taken to the streets in protest against the harsh abuses they experience courtesy of state-sponsored police. The pandemic has exacerbated an old problem. While it would be easy to blame the USA for its decades-long (and unnecessarily punitive) embargo against Cuba, I am learning from Afro-Cubans on the ground that the USA’s embargo is not the primary cause of their hardships and grievances.

Many Black Americans are all too familiar with the late Fidel Castro’s visit to the USA where he deliberately stayed in Harlem with us. I remember the late Kwame Ture (né Stokely Carmichael) received medical care on the island. Then there is Black activist and fugitive Assata Shakur who received asylum on the island and has lived there for decades. Therefore, we Black Americans were not prepared to hear or fully accept what we were seeing on the ground in Cuba, namely young Cubans throwing rocks and bottles at police officers, marching in the streets, denouncing Castro, and telling Black American pundits to hush up because none of us have a clue what these young folks have been dealing with. And I have to agree; it is time for us Black Americans to stand down, shut up, and listen without the American-centricity we all carry but often fail to acknowledge.

I wrote back in January of this year that I wanted President Joe Biden to return to Obama-era normalization with Cuba. I still stand by that wish because as the government of Cuba has exported its best doctors to other countries to pay the island’s bills, it has also done so at the expense of the health and well-being of Cubans on the island. The medical miracle that Cuban medicine has been (a vaccination for meningitis, successfully preventing an HIV-positive mother from transmitting the virus to her unborn child, and fighting Ebola) is threatened by a more systemic problem that we do not want to face—plain, old-fashioned racism that Cuba claimed was finished decades ago, and a government that silences anyone that disagrees with its policies, which has apparently been in place for decades.

Right now the American Embassy in Cuba warns Americans not to visit Cuba due to potential violence and the continued spread of SARS-CoV-2. Biden unfortunately intends to sanction individual members of Cuban government. Sanctions have not worked, ever. As material shortages have always been a problem on the island for at least 5 decades, the pandemic has pushed everyone to their limits. Many Cuban protestors have stated that the folks in the government are eating and living just fine. Yet, the masses of Cubans now face severe food and medical shortages, and incarceration and/or death for daring to speak out about the abuses they suffer. Even worse, many Afro-Cubans complain that we don’t listen to what they are truly trying to tell us.

I still believe that the coordinated efforts of Cuban doctors, American doctors, and scientists from around the world can help us stem the tide of this pandemic, where, at minimum this disease only remains as a treatable and preventable disease. Yet, I also know that history tells us that any revolution that goes on too long eventually imitates the regime it was trying to replace. We must also be prepared to acknowledge and work toward a future where we Black Americans listen first to our kith and kin Afro-Cubans to stem the tide of state-sponsored racism, murder, and deprivation that they face—And those diseases are far more difficult to treat than any virus.

Copyright © by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives-4.0 International License. Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: https://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

The Other DMX Lesson

by Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

Let me first extend my deepest sympathies to the family, friends, and fans of DMX (né Earl Simmons). Full disclosure: I am a Traditional Jazz, Bebop, CuBop, Afro-Latin Jazz, Tin Pan Alley, Soul/R&B, Johnny Mathis music fan. Aside from a couple of Rap tunes, I am not much of a Rap/Hip Hop fan. My former students keep me up-to-date on the genre. So, this blog is not going to be filled with memories about when I first heard this very talented man who died too soon. I do hope, however, that DMX’s passing does more than have us publicly bemoan the perils of substance abuse, but rather, we Black folks start thinking seriously about mental health. I have no way of knowing if DMX had any form of mental disease, but a lot of drug users do…

Way back in the day, a friend as close as a brother, had a pattern of woofing down about FOUR 16-ounce Schlitz Malt Liquor Beers, coupled with about a fifth of Vodka, in one sitting over a couple of hours. Yet, I never saw him drunk. He would sleep 8 hours, then get up fresh as a daisy and go to work the next day. This was his daily ritual. He never had a hangover, if you can believe that. I couldn’t understand how he did it. Later, he was diagnosed with “Mania,” often an early symptom of Bipolar Disorder. The excessive booze was his way of self-medicating, of literally slowing down his brain that was constantly racing on all cylinders. The excessive alcohol made it possible for him to function, even if it was an unhealthy way to get some relief.

Now, drug abuse can cause mania, but drug use can also be a response to the mania itself. When I learned that DMX—a long term, off-and-on-again substance abuser—had a massive heart attack that put him in a coma with little brain function, I wondered if the source of his inability to permanently kick his drug habit was rooted in an undiagnosed mental illness. I don’t know. We may never know, but it is certainly a possibility.

We, in the Black community, have a serious mental health crisis precisely because, en masse, we don’t take mental illness seriously enough. Mental illness is not prayed away; it has to be treated. We casually and often humorously say that people have “lost their minds,” but sometimes they have actually done just that—lost their minds. A failure to seek treatment or to encourage someone to seek treatment means the disease gets worse. Sometimes, as in the case with my old friend, using both legal and illegal substances are signs of a larger problem that, if identified, can be successfully treated.

As of this writing, it has not yet been confirmed whether DMX’s heart attack, subsequent coma and death were the results of an overdose on opioids or some other drug. Even though the majority of opioid addicts are white, we have too often dismissed opioid addiction as strictly a “white” phenomenon, forgetting that there were/are glaring racial disparities in opioid addiction diagnosis and in addiction treatment. We can’t even afford to recall, with nostalgia, those days back in the mid-20th century, when there were virtually no statistics on “Black Suicide” because back then, for the most part, Black folks rarely, if ever, committed suicide. That day is dead and gone too.

Today, the second leading cause of death for Black youngsters from the ages of 10 to 14 is suicide. Let me repeat that: Today, the second leading cause of death for Black youngsters from the ages of 10 to 14 is suicide. And now it is estimated that Black children are more likely to commit suicide than white kids. When you have time, just read the data: Addressing the Crisis of Black Youth Suicide.

No matter what mental or physical problems led to DMX’s erratic drug habits and premature death, it was fairly obvious that he was an immensely talented man. We will read one tribute after another in his honor. Inevitably, people will mention how he “battled his demons.” They will easily recall when they heard DMX say something profound, something that changed their lives. What too many of them will not say is when they noticed a change in his behavior or habits or health or moods, and then tried to do something about it. And that’s not just a problem, it’s a shame.

Let’s do something more palpable than wring our hands and hang our heads in prayer. Say something to friends and family members when you witness erratic behavior and/or substance abuse. Pay attention to your own mental and physical health. Pay attention to your children’s mental and physical health. Call a psychiatrist, a physician whenever you believe it necessary. Ignore people who tell you that you are over-reacting. Help stop the trend of us losing too many of our people much too soon. Àṣẹ.

Copyright © by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives-4.0 International License. Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: https://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

A Micro-History: The 3rd Gender

by Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

This is an extremely tiny micro-history of Gender that is almost never covered in classrooms. While there is enough data available on this subject that fills thousands of libraries, it is particularly important information in light of the recent excessive violence and neglect of our/my transgender sisters and brothers. It is important to remember that many ancient African, Asian, and Native American civiliations tended to identify and accept people who were not easily lumped into a single category defined strictly as male and female. There were (and always will be) a tiny minority of individuals who were/are best defined and/or recognized as not fitting into either of the two gender categories emphasized by the Western world.

As difficult as it may be to accept, gender is a social construct and has an entirely different meaning from biological sex. Western ideologies, which were largely dispersed through domination and conquest, have their value. Yet, Western colonization of parts of Africa, Asia and the Americas also replaced, altered, and in some cases, destroyed indigenous belief systems and cosmologies that were beneficial to the peoples that created them. Hopefully, the following 9 frames will provoke further study about this topic, gender dysphoria (a very real human status), and a greater understanding of people and peoples who do not neatly fit this very Western concept of being either one thing or the other.

Copyright © by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

This blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives-4.0 International License. Any partial or total reference to this or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: https://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.