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Alejandra Bronfman. Measures of Equality.

Social Science, Citizenship and

Race in Cuba, 1902-1940. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina
Press. 2004
The nationalist ideology that emerged from the War for Independence
promoted racial equality as the basis of the formation of the national
community. The ascent through military ranks of many Afro-Cubans proves
this dynamic. However, Bronfman suggests racial inequalities remained
entrenched through empiricist and positivist claims about the biological
natural of racial differences. It a certain way, the new scientific life replace
the old juridical and social hierarchies.
The War for Independence also resulted in the U.S. colonial domination of
Cuba. When autonomy came, it did along with the question of who must be
considered citizens of the new nation. The active participation of AfroCubans put some pressure on adopting the formal legal equality and
universal manhood suffrage. Although free exercise faith was also declared,
it was conditioned to not violate the Christian moral and the public order.
The latter in particular was useful to law enforcement officials to regulate
any religious practice that was deemed problematic in the new republican
order. In any case, this experiment of political formalization of liberal ideals
coincided with the ascendance of scientific theories about race. Bronfman
says: That science proposed new ways to rank the races just as
statemakers conferred legal equality on former slaves and their descendants
seems paradoxical, but it was not uncommon (p. 3).
Argument: It argues that the relatively inclusive rather than relentlessly
exclusive nature of the early Cuban republic legitimated hereditarian views
about the inferiority of Cubans of African descent. At the same time the
context of relative inclusion allowed Cubans of color to express powerful
critiques of racialist views. As a result, tensions between equality and
hierarchy generated a process by which political identity and citizenship
were transformed. (p. 4). From this emerged after the 1940s a black
political identity in step with a broader conception of citizenship imagined in
collective terms. All in all, the book is more about the transformation of the
political order and its patterns of participation, than about political
incorporation of Afro-Cubans.
Racial democracy has been already discussed by the scholarship. Aline Helg
argues it was used as a tool to prevent the formation of race-oriented
political movements, such as Partido Independiente de Color, that were
accused of racism and disturbing the national unity and harmony. On the

contrary, Alejandro de la Fuente considers that also serve to Cubans of color

to limit the scope of white exclusionary or racist practices. On the basis of
racial democracy, Cuban could demand political participation, and the
political parties had to rely on black and mulattos since they were part of
the electorate. This book goes further by interrogating the category of race
itself through an examination of the ways state officials, social scientists,
and black and mulatto activists made, changed, and legitimated its
meanings (p. 5).
Bronfman notes that theories of racial differences survived within the myth
of racial democracy, while engaged notions of political quality. By doing this,
she seeks to understand how politics and society changed the meaning of
race. Race is here more an outcome of the historical confluence of ideas,
events, and processes. This takes place in a particular time and space. Then,
she tries to make the history of race as an idea, following the premises
already exposed by Peter Wade, Thomas Holt, and Barbara Fields.
Social science had a role in shaping the meaning of race, although this was
contested by numerous intellectuals of color. The book engages these
debates between intellectuals, institutions, and ideas as they buttressed one
another and came into conflict. There debates revolved around how to erase
the legacies of colonialism and bring about a sovereign modern nation-state
by reforming racial practices and theories.
Anthropology became the focus of a modernizing project undertaken by the
U.S. military government and Cuban scientists. Several reforms were
conducted at the University of Havana, including the professionalization of
anthropology. Scientific paradigms that informed the interest in
anthropology presumed biological, measurable differences among race, and
therefore, it could state whether the population was progressing or
regressing. To improve the population came to be seen by some political
leaders and scientists as a requirements for full participation both political
and social. In the meanwhile, Cubans of color tried to navigate through this
practice demanding equality. Struggles for equality were the just the
continuation of previous mobilization that dated from the times of
emancipation. The active participation in the Wars for Independence gave
legitimacy to their claims. So, Cubans of color sought to assert their equality
through education and civil virtue, and their history of military participation.
These competing notions of citizenship and equality emerged alongside
legal and scientific discourses and practices also engaged in determining
the boundaries and norms of citizenship (p. 12).

Chapter 1 explores the new mechanisms formulated to content perceived

threats to new order emerged after independence. In spite of the prevailing
notion of equality, there was a heterogeneous response from the state to the
matter of race, crime, and religion. Chapter 2 focuses on the specific case of
the child murder of Zoila and looks at the debates that emerged about
civilization and modernity that emerged from it. Here she argues that the
figure of black delinquent became central to a number of social scientific
explanations and formulations, what helped scientists to create theories to
explain their social environment. The link between race and crime came to
be used widely by journalists, the courts, intellectuals, and politicians.
Chapters 3 and 4 talk about the ways intellectuals and activists of color
debated their place in the Cuban society. They distanced themselves from
those expressions of primitive religions associated to barbarism and crime.
However, as the Partido Independiente de Colors rebellion of 1912, there
were other forms of claiming equality, more oriented to focus on
autonomous associational life and tentative formulations of a collective
identity. A black political identity began to become epistemologically and
politically viable. She then shows how social science responded to this
process of mass mobilization. Instead of centering on reform, it did on
demobilization. While it highlighted and envisioned and ordered, exotic past
intended to valorize Cubas African heritage, it used eugenics to create in
the present associations between race and crime, also inspired by
Lombrasian scientific approaches. Chapter 5 examines the success of these
endeavors in gaining state support. Social science, she says: with the
exception of criminology, proved of limited value to a state interested in
harnessing highly mobilized sectors of society to build political support (p.
14). As chapter 6 shows, intellectuals were not particularly interested in the
promises of social sciences. However, this did not deny the fact that
politicians, intellectuals, and many others saw races as distinct groups
rather than disaggregated collections of individuals or one homogeneous
The final chapter shows how some black intellectuals formulated claims of
citizenship, while embraced new intellectual trends that were reinterpreting
African cultures in the 1930s. These debates about cultural representation
flowed into political representation. The constitution of 1940 finally banned
racial discrimination. However, as she shows, the fact that Cubans of color
organized to make these claims and fight against inequality (that did not
disappear after 1940) proves the vital presence of the raza de color in the
political life.