Blackness in the White Nation

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Blackness in the White Nation:
A History of Afro-Uruguay
George Reid Andrews
2010, University of North Carolina Press
256 pages, plates

THIS is undoubtedly a valuable contribution to the broader history of the African presence in Latin America which has gathered considerable momentum in recent years, although one sometimes wonders about the degree to which the cultural influence of Afro-Latin Americans may be overegged at the expense of indigenous communities for political reasons that derive from an academic agenda mapped out solely in the US. This book is no exception, tracing the history of Uruguayans with African ancestry and arguing that candombe – a style of African-inflected music – is one of the defining features of Uruguayan national culture. The author makes the familiar point that a contribution to national identity that he describes as central did not, however, fundamentally help the cause of racial equality. It is a fair point, but that cause is never helped by recreating a moral order of claims on national culture that derives from another country and downplays by omission the original Amerindian inhabitants of the rural north-west, the River Plate tribes, and the poor immigrants from Europe. Referring to the original indigenous Charrúa people, for example, Uruguayans sometimes denominate themselves “charrúas”, particularly in the context of a struggle against foreigners. There are good historical reasons why Uruguay is not often associated with the African diaspora, and little point in pretending otherwise. – GO’T

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