Black Political Activism and the Cuban Republic. By Melina Pappademos. (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2011. Pp. xi, 328. $39.95.)
This new volume brings a fresh perspective to the study of black Cuban agency. The author probes scholars to move beyond nationalist frameworks, which often result in analyses of race relations and a "strict racialist consciousness" among black Cubans. Author Melina Pappademos argues that in order to understand the intricacies of black political identities, "the study of black activism should consider black political machinations, reject facile assignations of a universalist race consciousness, and abandon the presumption that blacks, alone, have a racial valence around which they mobilize" (8). The book's six chapters deconstruct the notion of a monolithic black community in order to examine how black activist strategies and political ideologies are formed as much by class, ethnicity, geographic location, and generation as they are by race.
Pappademos examines in great detail how black activists navigated the political arena. The first two chapters look at how black activists penetrated the political system in order to overcome political and economic marginalization. While Cubans argued for universal male suffrage and participation in the political sphere, the idea emerged that blacks were culturally inferior and thus ill equipped to hold positions of authority. Black activists adopted a pragmatic approach to overcome discrimination; they tapped into patronage networks, created circulos (centers) that supported political parties at the local level, and brought their family members into the fold through civic and social organizations. These strategies enabled a group of primarily elite blacks to attain public posts and access to resources in exchange for their vote. …