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.