Updated: Jun 17, 2020
On June 3rd, Dominicans began trending on Twitter after a video surfaced showing Dominican residents of Dyckman racially profiling and chasing out a group of African Americans. Apparently, Dominicans were protecting their stores from looters after the Black Lives Matter protests in New York City. I see it as another poignant example of Dominican’s internalized anti-blackness. The history of the Dominican Republic could shed some light as to why Dominicans have almost a visceral reaction to their blackness. The complex milieu of anti-blackness, anti-haitainism, and historical trauma plagues Dominican culture. I identify as a black Dominicana. I am also a feminist who is navigating her way through the intersectionalities of a being black Latinx and second-generation American. I radically accept my black Latinx heritage, however, that wasn’t always true.
Blackness was never discussed. It was like it didn’t exist- we were Dominicans. On tv, the two Spanish-Language channels were Univision and Telemundo. I grew up watching telenovelas with white Latinx actors and actresses. Family members lauded my lighter-skinned cousins because of their long, loose curl textured hair and being “fina” (which means they were light and had Eurocentric features). I have overheard conversations where people were relieved that my nieces did not come out “too dark”. This just scratches the surface of the anti-blackness I have witnessed in my family. Even today, the only black person you’ll see on a music video is the artist. The women in Dominican media are either light-skinned or white.
Another example is when Clauvid Daly Cabrera was chosen to represent Dominican Republic in the 2019 Miss Universe pageant. Dominicans vehemently opposed Miss Dominican Republic. Dominicans didn’t agree with the choice because she did not look Dominican. She did not “represent the beauty of the Dominican people”. What they meant was that she was too black and her lips were too big. The misogynoir Clauvid Daly Cabrera received was so appalling that she felt the need to prove that she was Dominican, and not, Haitian-that is a whole different topic in itself. She was no Amelia Vega; the pride and joy of Dominican beauty standards. People even called “La Mega”, a New York-based Spanish-language radio station- to protest Clauvid’s crown. I listened to a number of degrading and dehumanizing comments before turning it off. I was so defeated by the hate she received. My people really hate people who look like me.
DOMINICANS ARE FAR FROM RADICALLY ACCEPTING THEIR BLACKNESS.
The conversations surrounding the video and Dominicans have been quite intense. I’ve seen a few posts on social media that say, “Dominicans don’t know that they’re black” or “Dominicans deny their blackness”. It isn’t that simple. And it’s simply NOT enough. Dominicans acknowledging their black ancestry isn’t going to uproot the pervasive anti-blackness and anti-haitianism from our culture. We do know that we are afro-descendants. We are aware that there are Black Dominicans. We know. Dominicans just have the option of othering themselves to seem less black. They cling to their Spanish and Taino roots and denounce their black ones.
Trujillo and colonialism did a number on my people. A reason Dominicans hate Haitians so much is that Haitians claim their black roots and dared to liberate themselves from firm grips of colonialism. Dominican history was reshaped to benefit the oppressors. To make Dominicans believe that they are different from their Haitians counterparts. Haitians remind Dominicans that they are in fact, black. Dominican Republic’s real independence is December 1st, 1821 from Spain. Contrary to the belief that it was on February 27th, 1844 from Haiti’s occupation. I’m not going to delve too deep into the politics and history between these countries. The history of the Dominican Republic and the way it’s taught plays a prominent role in its internalized anti-blackness and anti-haitianism.
Dominicans do know that they are black.
In 2005, Dr. Joy DeGruy published her book, “Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing”. Post-traumatic slave syndrome is a theory that tries to explain how the PTSD from our enslaved ancestors can be passed down through generations in African-Americans. Dr. Joy states that our ancestors adapted both positive and negative behaviors in order to survive. One of the symptoms of PTSS is internalized racism. This can cause people to hate their physical features, culture, and customs. I think it can also lead to one not even seeing their race. I believe that the same can be said about the complex racial identity in Dominicans. It’s as if Dominicans associate their blackness with the trauma of slavery. Silvio Torres-Saillant brilliantly expands on the theory of when slavery became racialized in the Dominican Republic in his essay, “Introduction to Dominican Blackness.
I invite my Dominican people to question their relationship with their blackness. To examine our internalized anti-blackness and how it connects with the all-encompassing residual effects of slavery and colonialism on our island. It is not enough to just say Dominicans you’re black because your ancestors were brought over as slaves. We know this. It’s time to teach Dominican history that’s centered around our black roots. Our skin, hair, noses, and lips tell a complex history of ancestor’s resiliency. In his thorough examination of Dominican blackness, “Introduction to Blackness”, Silvio Torres-Saillant wrote: “We ought to make an effort to assemble instances of active participation of Afro-Dominicans in building and defining their history”. The Dominican Republic needs to start teaching our history from a pro-black, anti-racist, and free from nationalistic intentions. Uplift our black Dominicans. Amplify their voices. That is when we will start to truly heal and get on the path to radical acceptance and liberation.
Image credit to Patrick Witty for The New York Times
Lorena Candelario is studying Psychology with a Minor in Health Education at Kean University. She aspires to work in mental health as a trauma-informed therapist with a concentration in somatics. A second-generation Dominican-American who strongly identifies with her Black Dominican roots. Lorena firmly believes that acknowledging and healing our individual, racial and intergenerational traumas is a key component in our path to liberation. She enjoys baking, practicing yoga, and reading self-improvement books. She/her. IG: lolo__candela