Online Roundtable: Devyn Spence Benson’s Antiracism in Cuba

November 6-11, 2017

Black Perspectives, the blog of the African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS), is hosting an online roundtable on Devyn Spence Benson’s Antiracism in Cuba: The Unfinished Revolution (University of North Carolina Press, 2016). The roundtable begins on Monday, November 6, 2017, and concludes on Saturday, November 11, 2017. The roundtable will feature responses from Yesenia Barragan (Dartmouth College); Aisha K. Finch (UCLA); Nancy Raquel Mirabal (University of Maryland); Melina Pappademos (University of Connecticut Storrs); and Sandy Placido (Oberlin College). On the final day, Devyn Spence Benson (Davidson College) will offer concluding remarks.

During the week of the online roundtable, Black Perspectives will publish new blog posts every day at 5:30AM EST. Please follow Black Perspectives (@BlkPerspectives) and AAIHS (@AAIHSon Twitter; like AAIHS on Facebook; or subscribe to our blog for updates. By subscribing to Black Perspectives, each new post will automatically be delivered to your inbox during the week of the roundtable.

About the Book

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 an Assistant Professor of Africana and Latin American Studies at Davidson College. Benson received her Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in the field of Latin American History, where her research focused on racial politics during the first three years of the Cuban revolution. She has taught at UNC-Chapel Hill, Williams College, Louisiana State University and now Davidson College. She is the author of published articles and reviews in the Hispanic American Historical ReviewJournal of Transnational American StudiesJournal of Cuban StudiesWorld Policy Journal, and PALARA: Publication of the Afro-Latin / American Research Association. Benson’s work has been supported by the Doris G. Quinn, Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS), and Gaius Charles Bolin dissertation fellowships. She has also held residencies at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem and the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at the Hutchins Center at Harvard University. Benson’s newest book, Antiracism in Cuba: The Unfinished Revolution  is based on over 18 months of field research in Cuba where she has traveled annually since 2003. Follow her at Twitter @bensondevyn.

About the Participants

Yesenia Barragan is a historian of modern Latin America and the Caribbean and a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Society of Fellows at Dartmouth College. She specializes in the history of Afro-Latin America and the African diaspora in the Americas, with a focus on race, slavery, and emancipation in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Dr. Barragan earned her Ph.D. in Latin American History at Columbia University, where she was a Ford Foundation Fellow, and her B.A. in Philosophy and History from Brown University, where she was a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow and Beinecke Scholar. Her current book project, Frontiers of Freedom: Slavery and Emancipation on the Colombian Pacific, explores the protracted process of the gradual abolition of slavery (1821-1852) and the aftermath of emancipation on the frontier Pacific lowlands of Colombia, the former gold mining center of the Spanish Empire. Yesenia is also a longtime activist and has served as a legal expert for asylum cases in Latin America. She was previously a monthly opinion columnist for the Latin American news agency Telesur. Follow her on Twitter @Y__Barragan.


Aisha Finch is Associate Professor of Gender Studies and Afro-American Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). She earned a B.A. from Brown University and a M.A. and Ph.D. in History from New York University. She has received numerous fellowships, including awards from the Ford Foundation, the UC Presidential Postdoctoral Fellowship Program, and the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA. Her research has appeared in the Journal of Women’s History and the Journal of Historical Sociologyand she is co-editor of the anthology Breaking the Chains, Making the Nation: The Black Cuban Fight for Freedom and Equality, 1812-1912 (Louisiana State University Press, forthcoming). Her book, Rethinking Slave Rebellion in Cuba: La Escalera and the Insurgencies of 1841-1844 (University of North Carolina Press, 2015), received the 2016 Harriet Tubman Prize from the Lapidus Center for the Historical Analysis of Transatlantic Slavery and was a finalist for the 2016 Frederick Douglass Book Prize from the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition.


Nancy Raquel Mirabal is an associate professor of American Studies and U.S. Latina/o Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park. She is also the Director of the U.S. Latina/o Studies (USLT) program and on the Advisory Board for the Center for Global Migration Studies. Mirabal earned a Ph.D. in History from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and has published widely in the fields of Afro-diasporic, gentrification, and spatial studies. Her most recent publication, Suspect Freedoms: The Racial and Sexual Politics of Cubanidad in New York, 1823-1957 (New York University Press, 2017), is the first book to explore the history of Cuban racial and sexual politics in New York during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Chronicling more than a hundred years of Cuban exile, migration, and diasporic history, Suspect Freedoms situates this pivotal era within larger theoretical discussions of potential, future, visibility, and belonging; demonstrating how these transformations complicated meanings of territoriality, gender, race, power, and labor. In addition, Mirabal is a co-editor of Keywords in Latina/o Studies with Lawrence LaFountain Stokes and Deborah Vargas (New York University Press, forthcoming). Her next project examines the politics of archival spaces, dissonant discourses, and spatial inquiry. She is a a recipient of a variety of fellowships, including the Scholar in Residence Fellowship at The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, the University Chancellor Postdoctoral Fellowship for Academic Diversity at the University of California, Berkeley, and the International Migration Postdoctoral Fellowship with the Social Science Research Council. Professor Mirabal also served as a Distinguished Lecturer for the Organization of American Historians (OAH) from 2005 to 2010. Follow her on Twitter @nrmirabal.


Melina Pappademos earned a B.A. from Cornell University, her M.A. from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, and her Ph.D. in history from New York University. Her research and teaching interests focus on the social and cultural history of race, social and political mobilizations, and nationalisms, particularly of people of African descent in the Caribbean and Latin America. Supported by such institutions as New York University, the Ford Foundation, Harvard University, Wesleyan University, and the U.S. Department of Education’s Fulbright-Hays Research program, Dr. Pappademos published her first book, Black Political Activism and the Cuban Republic (University of North Carolina Press). The book was awarded the 2012 Murdo J. Macleod Best Book Prize from the Southern Historical Association-Latin American and Caribbean Section. It reconstructs historical patterns of black Cuban political activism and their relationship to the political structures and cultures of the Cuban republic (1902-1959). Her second book project, funded by a University of Connecticut Research Foundation Large Grant and a National Academy of Sciences Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship, examines racial symbolism during Cuba’s turbulent 1930s and 1940s.


Sandy Placido is a Visiting Assistant Professor of History at Oberlin College. She completed a PhD in American Studies at Harvard University. Dr. Placido is an interdisciplinary scholar who combines methods in History, Anthropology, Performance Studies, Literature, and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. Her interests include women’s history, social movements, Caribbean studies, Afro-diasporic studies, Latina/o/x Studies, and popular culture. Sandy’s dissertation, “A Global Vision: Dr. Ana Livia Cordero and the Puerto Rican Liberation Struggle, 1931-1992,” is the first, in-depth study of Ana Livia Cordero, a Puerto Rican female physician and anti-imperialist activist. Cordero was a Cold War freedom fighter who dedicated her life to Puerto Rican liberation, and forged rich ties with activists throughout Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the United States. Dr. Placido’s research on Cordero has taken her to Ghana, Puerto Rico, and various parts of the United States, and she has facilitated so that Cordero’s papers could be archived at Harvard’s Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America. Dr. Placido received her B.A. in American Studies and Ethnicity, Race, and Migration from Yale University, and she is a proud Mellon Mays and Ford Foundation fellow. Before beginning graduate school, she was an immigrant rights organizer in New York City who worked with Dominican communities impacted by racialized incarceration and deportation policies. Follow her on Twitter @LaSandyPlacido.

Copyright © AAIHS. May not be reprinted without permission.