Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

Devyn Spence Benson ─ Not Blacks, But Citizens: Race and Revolution in Cuba, 1959-2015

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

12 p.m.

Kim Koo Library

Devyn Spence Benson is an assistant professor of history and African and African American studies at Louisiana State University. Benson received her PhD from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in the field of Latin American History, where her research focused on racial discourses during the first three years of the Cuban revolution.

Benson is currently completing her manuscript, Not Blacks, but Citizens: Race and Revolution in Cuba. The book examines the links between race and revolution in Cuba after 1959 and the effects those connections had on Afro-Cuban lives. Using the voices of Afro-Cubans living with and having to compromise with the revolution, Benson’s research seeks to reconcile stories of post-1959 black censorship with narratives of revolutionary opportunity. This project has also led her to explore connections between Cubans of African descent and African Americans before and after the Cuban Revolution.

Benson's project is a transnationally based history of the rhetoric, ideology, and lived experience of race and racism during the 1959 Cuban revolution and the early 1960s. Benson's manuscript tackles the question of how ideas about racial difference, racist stereotypes, and racially-discriminatory practices persist, survive, and reproduce themselves despite significant state efforts to generate social and racial equality. How can racism and equality exist together?  Benson explores these questions using the case study of the 1959 Cuban revolution and Fidel Castro’s public campaign against discrimination in the 1960s. Pushing past existing scholarship that has established the persistence of racism in on the island, especially after the Special period crisis of the 1990s revealed sharp inequalities in contemporary Cuba, Benson shows that not only were early revolutionary programs ineffective in eliminating racism, but that they frequently negated their own anti-racist efforts by reproducing traditional racist images and idioms, especially in public representations of blacks in revolutionary propaganda, cartoons, and educational materials. Using newly released sources and the voices of Afro-Cubans whose lived experiences highlight the nuances of negotiating life as a peripheral citizen during the revolution, Benson's manuscript offers a way to reconcile stories of post-1959 black censorship with narratives of revolutionary opportunity and exposes the limits of state action—even a revolutionary state’s actions—to eliminate racial discrimination.

Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies