Comparing African Cultural Retention and its Effect on Racial Attitudes in the Music and National Identities of Cuba and the United States

Date of Completion

Spring 5-1-2021

Thesis Advisor(s)

Jeffrey Ogbar

Honors Major

Individualized Major


African American Studies | Africana Studies | Arts and Humanities | Caribbean Languages and Societies | Comparative Literature | Latin American Languages and Societies | Latin American Literature | Latina/o Studies


This project investigates to what extent the African roots of popular music in Cuba and the United States are acknowledged and examines if this level of cultural acknowledgement has any influence on the postcolonial social, cultural, and economic treatment of African Americans and Afro-Cubans. Does a greater and/or more widespread acceptance of African cultural retention and overall African heritage in a country’s national identity help alleviate racism in that country? Using primary sources from Cuban and American music and cultural periodicals, economic statistics, and political and cultural histories, I have determined that Cuba has a higher level of African cultural retention acceptance in comparison to the United States due to its heritage of being a “mixed race country,” its more fluid racial categorizations, its history of being under Spanish colonial rule, and its legacy as a communist regime. This higher acceptance level and acknowledgement of the centrality of African heritage in Cuban identity in turn positively influences the extent of racial attitudes in the country in a social and cultural manner, yet it is unable to eliminate economic racial inequality as shown by the disproportionate amount of economic hardship Afro-Cubans faced during the Special Period of the 1990s into today. Therefore, although a higher level of African cultural retention acceptance in a country’s national identity is not necessarily enough to eliminate all forms of racism in the country, signifying the long-lasting legacy of slavery and racism, this comparative analysis proves the value of cultural acceptance as a beneficial strategy in combating racism in society.

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