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Beyond the Book

334 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 24 halftones, notes, bibl., index

Envisioning Cuba

ISBN  978-1-4696-2672-7
Published: April 2016

Antiracism in Cuba

The Unfinished Revolution

By Devyn Spence Benson

Analyzing the ideology and rhetoric around race in Cuba and south Florida during the early years of the Cuban revolution, Devyn Spence Benson argues that ideas, stereotypes, and discriminatory practices relating to racial difference persisted despite major efforts by the Cuban state to generate social equality. Drawing on Cuban and U.S. archival materials and face-to-face interviews, Benson examines 1960s government programs and campaigns against discrimination, showing how such programs frequently negated their efforts by reproducing racist images and idioms in revolutionary propaganda, cartoons, and school materials.

Building on nineteenth-century discourses that imagined Cuba as a raceless space, revolutionary leaders embraced a narrow definition of blackness, often seeming to suggest that Afro-Cubans had to discard their blackness to join the revolution. This was and remains a false dichotomy for many Cubans of color, Benson demonstrates. While some Afro-Cubans agreed with the revolution's sentiments about racial transcendence--"not blacks, not whites, only Cubans"--others found ways to use state rhetoric to demand additional reforms. Still others, finding a revolution that disavowed blackness unsettling and paternalistic, fought to insert black history and African culture into revolutionary nationalisms. Despite such efforts by Afro-Cubans and radical government-sponsored integration programs, racism has persisted throughout the revolution in subtle but lasting ways.

About the Author

Devyn Spence Benson is assistant professor of history and African and African American studies at Louisiana State University.


"Devyn Spence Benson places cultural artifacts, individuals, and policies in carefully reconstructed contexts full of promise, opportunities, and contradictions--and sensitively locates the continuing limitations of the Cuban revolution's approach to racial equality, nation building, and racial integration. Also one of the first studies to include Afro-Cuban exiles in the history of race in postrevolutionary Cuba."
--Alejandro de la Fuente, Harvard University

"Insightful and impressively researched, this is a rare, archivally based study of Cuban racial politics in the post-1959 era. It has contemporary resonance because it provides a badly needed historical context for the ongoing struggle for racial equality in revolutionary Cuba. Devyn Spence Benson pushes beyond the 'raceless' rhetoric of the Castro government to find glimpses of the ways Afro-Cubans subtly challenge attempts to silence their aspirations for racial equality."
--Frank Andre Guridy, The University of Texas at Austin

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