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Antiracism in Cuba

The Unfinished Revolution

Devyn Spence Benson

Publication Year: 2016

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.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press

Series: Envisioning Cuba


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xv

Many people/organizations are to thank for their fi nancial and emotional support of this project. Awards from the Foreign Language and Area Studies program and the Doris G. Quinn Fellowship housed at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill were essential to funding my early research in Cuba...


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pp. xvii-xviii

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Introduction: Race and Revolution in Cuba

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pp. 1-29

"The black race has always been very oppressed and now is the time for them to give us justice, now is the time for them to give us equal opportunities to live,” Cristobalina Sardinas asserted only three weeks aft er Fidel Castro’s 26th of July Movement (M 26-7) forces ousted U.S.- backed Cuban president...

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1. Not Blacks, but Citizens: Racial Rhetoric and the 1959 Revolution

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pp. 30-71

During a heated televised interview on 25 March 1959, just three days after his first speech announcing the revolution’s campaign to eliminate racial discrimination, Cuban leader Fidel Castro had to defend his intentions against naysayers who disapproved of the new government’s integration plans. Castro recounted...

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2. The Black Citizen of the Future: Afro-Cuban Activists and the 1959 Revolution

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pp. 72-121

On 26 April 1959, one month aft er Fidel Castro announced the revolution’s campaign to eliminate racial discrimination, Afro- Cuban Juan René Betancourt gave a speech exposing the limits of the new government’s racial politics. Betancourt explained in a talk titled “The Black: Citizen of the...

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3. From Miami to New York and Beyond: Race and Exile in the 1960s

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pp. 122-152

Looking back on the fi rst few years aft er the Cuban Revolution, Reynaldo Peñalver remembered the March 1959 speech in which Fidel Castro fi rst promised to end racial discrimination on the island. The sixty- eightyear- old Afro- Cuban recalled Castro’s announcement that Cubans could dance with whomever...

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4. Cuba Calls!: Exploiting African American and Cuban Alliances for Equal Rights

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pp. 153-197

In September 1960, leaders from Havana’s National Executive Committee of Orientation and Integration, among them Afro- Cuban communist Salvador García Agüero, declared a “Week of Solidarity with the U.S. Negro” aft er own ers from a black hotel in Harlem opened their doors to Cuba’s delegation...

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5. Poor, Black, and a Teacher: Loyal Black Revolutionaries and the Literacy Campaign

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pp. 198-230

When questioned about the 1961 Literacy Campaign, Cubans recount stories of national highs and lows, fears and opportunities, and excitement and estrangement. Teenage alfabetizadores (literacy teachers) remembered Fidel Castro’s call to join the revolutionary literacy army, traveling to far- flung areas...

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Epilogue: A Revolution inside of the Revolution: Afro-Cuban Experiences after 1961

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pp. 231-248

Aft er the closing of the campaign to eliminate racial discrimination in 1961, Cubans of African descent faced considerable challenges tackling lingering racism in the late 1960s. In addition to Castro’s public claims that racial discrimination had been eliminated and the dismissal of black critics as ungrateful...


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pp. 249-284


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pp. 285-296


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pp. 297-311

E-ISBN-13: 9781469626741
E-ISBN-10: 1469626748
Print-ISBN-13: 9781469626727

Page Count: 332
Illustrations: 24 halftones
Publication Year: 2016

Series Title: Envisioning Cuba
Series Editor Byline: Edited by Louis A. Pérez Jr., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 942755201
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Antiracism in Cuba

Research Areas


Subject Headings

  • Racism -- Cuba.
  • Cuba -- Race relations -- History -- 20th century.
  • Blacks -- Cuba -- Social conditions -- 20th century.
  • Equality -- Cuba -- History -- 20th century.
  • Cuba -- Politics and government -- 1959-1990.
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