- AntiRacism in Cuba: The Unfinished Revolution by Devyn Spence Benson
Except for Brazil and the United States, racial discrimination in Cuba is arguably one of the most debated and vexing topics in the hemisphere. The quandary of racial discrimination in Cuba continues to be a major paradox and arguably no other country in the region has done more — symbolically and structurally — to address centuries of racial oppression and discrimination against Afro-descendants. Racial discrimination debates regarding revolutionary Cuba divide into two opposing camps: on one hand, there are those who posit that the Revolution eliminated or at least addressed racial inequality in a profound way. While on the other, there are those who argue that after the Revolution, Cuba continued to discriminate against Blacks and the Revolution's campaign to address racial discrimination was patronizing, empty rhetoric. Benson avoids this trap as she provides a micro-nuanced and fresh understanding on how the Revolution addressed racism. In doing so, she breaks new ground, as she provides a different lens that more critically assesses state led anti-discrimination efforts in the post 1959 period.
Benson rejects the binary stale Cold War framing of race relations in Cuba (the no racism versus racism) dichotomy as she meticulously and critically reviews state led anti-racism campaigns. Relying on oral histories, cartoons, speeches, articles, films, editorials and writings by Black Cubans, she traces how the revolution approached the thorny issues of racial discrimination. The central idea is to illustrate the major steps and missteps in the state led campaigns to eliminate (or address) racial discrimination.
The questions she poses are simultaneously simple and complex: How do ideas about racial difference, racial stereotypes, and racially discriminatory practice persist, survive, and reproduce themselves despite significant state efforts to generate social and racial equality? In what way does racism and equality co-exist across time and space? How have peoples of African descent challenged, participated in, and negotiated such processes? Benson posits that this conundrum is not only a question for Cuba but for all postcolonial and former slave societies in the Americas.
Chapter one argues that Revolution's decision to address racism and inequality was surprising given that M 26–7 had not taken a position during the struggle. The argument is that the need to unify the nation against US opposition and the pressure from Afro-Cuban leaders pushed the post 1959 government to break the silence on racial discrimination [End Page 631] (23). Chapter two sifts through the multiple meanings of race, blackness, and fighting racisms, and the ways Afro-Cubans understood discrimination with respect to how the new governments approached racial discrimination. Chapter three explores how race played out in the Cuban Diaspora: it underscores how Cubans, Cuban Americans, and African American understood race and the revolution. Written as a transnational history, it seeks to untangle the ways Afro-Cubans, Cubans in Exile (both Black and white), and African Americans saw the revolution through the lens of race. Like other postcolonial/slave societies in the Americas, the centrality of race and racial discrimination in Cuba, its meaning and significance, and the appropriate tools to dismantle it, took centre stage in the years after the triumph of the Revolution. Chapter four analyzes the long history of African American and Afro-Cuban collaboration. These strategic transnational relationships built on the shared battle of racial discrimination in both countries while allowing Afro-Cubans to position themselves within the frame of the revolution, and in doing so, allowed them to continue to pressure the government to address racial inequality (198). Chapter five deals with the local politics surrounding the murder of Conrado Benítez, an eighteen-year-old volunteer teacher. His murder and torture by a band of counterrevolutionaries was due to his race, marginal class standing, and his support for the revolution (198). By linking Benítez's death to counterrevolutionaries distaste for Afro-Cubans, the new government created and transmitted a narrative of a young man's life that declared the...