Updated: Nov 10, 2021
by Saudi Garcia
Yesterday Dominicans were trending on social media for the actions of a group of people on Dyckman Street who, on June 2nd, 2020, allied with the 34th precinct to form a vigilante group and targeted a small group of African American young men. When Dominicans had their moment to stand in solidarity against the precinct that has oppressed them for generations, some chose to be against African Americans, our historic allies and civil rights way pavers. We are living in the midst of a revolution: In the United States, cities are burning, communities are being looted, protesters are facing off with police and the capitalist, racist and patriarchal system that keeps the United States running like a cruel and well-oiled machine is teetering on the edge of an uncertain abyss. Will the country fall into a despotic, tyrannical dictatorship, extending the miserable stench of the Trump years further into our future? Or will a new social order be born in the midst of so much chaos? In order to contribute to this process of transformation, it is crucial that Dominicans arm themselves with the knowledge necessary to be effective interrupters of violence in our own society, diaspora and in the greater United States writ large. This way we won’t make the mistake of racially profiling our allies and uniting with our historic, institutional antagonizers. As the unity of these states is cast into doubt, the question remains: Where do we enter? How can we make a difference? What can we do?
Over the past 5 years, I have seen a sea-change in the conversation about Dominicanidad and race in the U.S. and on the island. The changes, like all other social change, has been quite uneven, yet the conversation about Dominicanidad has unmistakably been transformed. This transformation first begins with an acknowledgement: Dominicans, in their majority, are Black or Afro-descendientes, however you want to call African ancestry. But it is not enough to say that Dominicans are Black because many Dominicans are Black, but we live in multi-racial societies dominated by white power. In the states, Dominicans are tokenized as an immigrant minority, while they are pitted against African Americans.
In the D.R., the dynamics are slightly different due to population size, not its fundamental workings: Black people are the majority, yet are socially and culturally disenfranchised, denied access to their own histories and made to feel like strangers in their own lands while being pitted against Haitians. People who are Dominican and happen to have dark skin are confronted by the notion that to be Dominican is not to be Black, and to be Black is to be Haitian. This paradox creates little possibility and space for Blackness as a cultural, political and social identity that shapes discourse, policy and practice. The struggle for a rising generation of Dominican activists is to successfully push for the land liberation, abolition and anti-corruption measures that will actually have an impact on Dominican society en el Nié, the space between here and there that beloved poet and performer Josefina Baez has theorized.
But what are some of these dynamics that hamper this movement and what solutions can be found? The myth of mestizaje for Dominicans (and other Latin Americans) creates an expectation of compulsory racial solidarity as a pre-requisite for entry into citizenship. Even with the forced acceptance of nationality over racial identification as a crucial requirement for the safety mechanisms that citizenship is supposed to provide, residence in a rural, maroon and Black territory (unofficially designated as such, there are no official policies for Black territorial recognition) makes many people be outside the putative protections of the state’s liberal constitution. This forced acceptance of nationality, which I have called forced racial intimacy in the past, creates the semblance of calm while allowing for racially-motivated killings and lynchings against Black bodies to take place unquestioned. Another dynamic that goes on in the country is the transference of some aspects of white power and privilege from white European bodies to mulatto, mixed race bodies. You do not have to live in a white body to uphold the values of white, Western supremacy. Mulattos and other mixed race, middle class people have historically attempted to do all in their power to assimilate, control and otherwise shape the lives of the large Black majority of the country. As in any other pigmentocracy, white power has flowed from those who are lightest to their more dark-skinned, middle- toned counterparts. Control over land has been a key site where those politics of skin color and culture have taken place, politics that have left Black campesinos dead and without land for the majority of Dominican history.
Dominicans are also responsible for the continued perpetuation of anti-haitianismo, a sentiment that scholar Lorgia Garcia-Peña notes dates back to the fears of Haitian free people after the 1804 Haitian revolution. Dominicans have been purveyors of violence against Haitians, making that violence a center-piece for entry into Dominicanidad. It is a profane original sin that makes Dominican nationality a shell of the thing that it could be, a hollow victory constantly proclaimed against our neighbors, rather than against our colonizers. The passage of 168-13, the denationalization bill, is just one example of the violence perpetuated in a society that still believes the fairy tales of a mulatto and white elite whose worst nightmare is free black people.
Over the past five years, a loose contingency of Dominicans from all walks of life, generations and backgrounds have rallied around the racial issues that are central to our community. Many of them have published in the pages of La Galeria, others have attended rallies and marches organized by Dominicanxs (formerly known as We Are All Dominican), others have aligned with the bi-cultural collective In Cultured Company, others still have aligned with a movement for the cultural revival of the African roots that are so central yet so misunderstood in the Dominican Republic. Though well- meaning, our efforts have not been sufficient to transform the structures of power that constantly assail Black bodies in our communities. It is difficult for me to sit down and say that, as I have personally dedicated countless hours to efforts in these spaces, in a myriad of creative and activist ways. What is it that is missing for us as a community to create radical and sustained change to these dynamics that are choking the life out of our community and sustaining a status quo that does not serve us? What transgressions do we need to commit in order to make our way into greater justice and liberation?
In these times of riot and revolution, Dominicans must arm themselves to be greater interrupters, brave interrupters, of the anti-black violence that we see rocking our communities both on the island and in the diaspora. We must hold ourselves deeply and humbly accountable for failures to speak up, failures to have decisive conversations and take decisive action and our complicity within systems that are deeply violent against black bodies.
I believe that many Dominicans are still asleep to the brutality and fragility of the system that we live in. We still believe the fairy tales of liberalism, a liberalism that was extremely limited and that was necessarily expanded by the Haitian revolution to include Black people. We are still attempting to make good on the promise of that expansion, a fight that is unfolding in the streets of the U.S. as I type this. However, Dominicans have been lulled into believing liberal creed social contracts that do not at all include us. When we “fail to make it” on the island or in the diaspora, we continue to blame personal failures instead of understanding how the system has set us up to fail and take down other black people in the process. Even if you’re a Dominican who considers yourself Black, you might still be walking around believing an individualist, neoliberalist, capitalist fantasy that makes the world around you impossible to transform, institutions impossible to abolish. These deadly fantasies show up as a continued fear and lack of solidarity with Haitians and African Americans, whose problems we seem to not understand affect us too. The solutions that they have come up with—which will impact the well-being of our communities—are often not embraced by our community, despite our long-time participation in the consumption of global black culture in the U.S. or our adoption of African American culture back on the island. How many Dominicans do you personally know who joined the organizing efforts of the Black Lives Matter movement? How many hold abolitionist frameworks and are public about their perspectives? We are embracing our Blackness within the cultural framework of the U.S. as we consume these forms of expression without saying the thing that we should also be saying: I am Dominican, I am Black and I am an abolitionist.
Abolition is the desire to see systems that harm Black life dismantled and transformed into systems of deep care, protection and renewed humanity. Adopting an abolitionist framework is the only way to move forward into more just and equitable futures as a transnational Dominican community moving through systems of oppression in both the U.S. and the D.R. Being a Dominican transnational abolitionist means resisting the Dominican state and its cultural and social agenda of blaqueamiento at all cost. It means not even believing in the farce that is the state, a force that is meant to keep working class masses disoriented, hungry and disorganized while it helps the rich white elite accumulate wealth and power. The Dominican state and its false narratives of nationhood could fade tomorrow and we would still have Dominican culture, which is predominantly African. We would be absolutely fine without the lying and cheating politicians sucking us dry. Abolition for Dominicans means understanding that the system of policing on the island was adopted from the U.S. Marines who invaded us, and that it has been used to uphold a dictatorship and squelch protest movements against dictatorship in the 1970s and neoliberalism in the 1980s. In the U.S., Dominicans are part of the policing force and the military, something has given an escape route out of poverty for many, including one of my cousins. Being part of a police force meant to oppress the poor, black and brown masses and keep wealth intact for capitalists means that we are also deeply complicit in supporting the structure that was exported to our own island.
Our analysis must also extend to the political system, which we either partake in by omission by not voting here or on the island, or actively partake in as part of a political group or voting block. Political corruption and violent actions by right-wing parties in the DR (and the two leading parties in the D.R. are just that: regressive, right wing, not particularly prepared to govern transparently) is killing black and brown bodies. Are we are ready for the conversation in which we decide to abolish these systems and instead support progressive, female and Black candidates and grassroots activists whom we hold responsible for meaningful changes to how power operates both here and there? Are we really ready for the conversation in which we address how comemierda, capitalist and racist many of the views that we hold onto about impoverished people, in particular queer, trans and women, truly are?
This work of moving between these two cultural systems of white supremacy can be deeply exhausting: In one you might find yourself being oppressed, and in the other you might find yourself being the oppressor, benefiting from dual citizenship while Haitians in the D.R. You might be called rara, questioned by your loved ones, seen as that annoying person who brings up race all the time. People might tell you you’re confused, you’re only Dominican, as if you have somehow magically escaped the global classification system that is racialization. Nevertheless, the ongoing work is to question the systems in place and seek abolition-centered solutions that takes us beyond the fantasies and fears of the nightmare that is race in the Americas and into the hopeful futures forming right as we speak. Be part of this revolution, which we have inherited from the Black Radical tradition, and be proud to one day tell your people that you transformed the reality of your home island and community for the better.
Saudi Garcia (she/her) is a doctoral student in the NYU Department of Anthropology. Her research interests lie at the intersection of race, gender, practice theory and digital media activism. She is researching the natural hair movement in the Dominican Republic, historicizing and documenting the collection of people, places and digital spaces that together amount to a force that is visibly shifting Dominican society and culture.