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Reviewed by:
  • Blackness in the White Nation: A History of Afro-Uruguay
  • Daniel Richter
Blackness in the White Nation: A History of Afro-Uruguay. By George Reid Andrews (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010. xiii plus 272 pp. $22.95).

With Blackness in the White Nation, George Reid Andrews makes another important contribution to the historiography of modern Latin America. Previously, Andrews has written seminal books about Afro-Argentines and Afro-Brazilians that have become models of Latin American social history. Fortunately for all those interested in Afro-Latin American history, Andrews decided in 2000 to visit Uruguay. A stop at the offices of the Afro-Uruguayan organization Mundo Afro led him to begin the research for this book. Blackness in the White Nation is a fascinating study that reflects Andrews's pedigree as a first-rate social historian and also draws widely on methods of cultural history. In this work, Andrews arguably makes his widest-reaching contribution to scholarship about the African diaspora by showing how Afro-Uruguayans participated in transnational networks related to Afro-Latin American and African-American print culture. Andrews also positions this work as a defense of historical comparisons; he writes: "only through comparison can we see how national histories fit into larger regional or world patterns of historical change" (19). This comparative goal motivates his approach throughout, especially with discussions of how Uruguayan society compared in terms of racial equality with other countries in Latin America, especially Brazil and Cuba.

In the introduction, Andrews explores how the presence of Afro-Uruguayans in the national community was long minimized by elites. In [End Page 245] the early twentieth century, Uruguayan elites celebrated the centennial of national independence by discussing their accomplishments as a white nation. In fact, Afro-Uruguayans were overlooked both discursively and statistically. In census data, their presence diminished significantly from 1852 to 1884 from 8.8 percent to less than one percent. After that, the census ceased to include racial categories until 1996 when approximately 6 percent claimed African descent of some form before this number rose to close to 9 percent in 2006. Andrews shows that discursive erasure outweighed the actual possibilities for demographic decline of Afro-Uruguayans. Andrews argues that elite Uruguayan discourse was mostly racist in overlooking Afro-Uruguayan culture since the community maintained an unceasing presence in shaping popular culture in Montevideo during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

The first chapter incisively traces Afro-Uruguayan cultural contributions and struggles in the decades after Uruguayan independence. In the 1850s and 1860s, Afro-Uruguayan performances of candombe music drew thousands of attendees and were Montevideo's most widely enjoyed public entertainment. Afro-Uruguayan mutual aid societies "sang, danced, and drummed" while also providing communal networks and emotional sustenance to their members. As in other Latin American nations, many Afro-Uruguayans also earned recognition by virtue of military service in the independence era and being militia members during national civil wars. However, this military service was frequently coerced and Afro-Uruguayans sought to contest forced impressments into militias by making appeals to the Uruguayan president in 1876 (35-36). They briefly gained support for their pleas before being strong-armed by later political regimes.

The second chapter, titled "Remembering Africa," explores the increased importance of candombe and carnival celebrations in the construction of Uruguayan culture from 1870 to 1950. Andrews shows the subversive elements of candombe that included satirical lyrics and compares the widespread acceptance of candombe at Montevideo's annual carnival celebrations to the similar nationalization of samba and tango as the national musical forms of Brazil and Argentina. Drawing on the work of the cultural critic Eric Lott about the appeal of black minstrelsy to white performers and audiences in the United States, Andrews argues there was a similar appeal in candombe to elite and middle-class white Uruguayans. This existed in their ability to appropriate candombe during carnival celebrations when comparsas performed in streets throughout Montevideo. In the 1870s, many white Uruguayans were attracted to carnival and created their own comparsas while performing in blackface as negros lubolos. Racially integrated comparsas also existed and were more likely to include working-class participants.

Chapter three deals with...


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