“Wow, estas negrecita,” my tías and tíos would say, commenting on my darkened complexion after spending some time in the summer sun. A seemingly harmless, almost amusing, observation of my Blackness.
“Se parece como un haitiano,” is said in reference to my darker-skinned cousin who is far from possessing Eurocentric markers that are often celebrated in Latinx culture and most of the world.
These statements speak volumes about the anti-Black and anti-Haitian sentiments prevalent in the Dominican Republic. Some racial sayings are all too common that they have almost become ingrained in the vernacular of many Dominicans. The anti-Blackness is so insidious that even now, while writing this, I am having to dig through my subconscious to pull out specific experiences from my own upbringing.
Anti-Blackness appears when Black Dominicans say things such as, “I am not Black, I am Dominican,” a rejection of one’s Blackness which is echoed by parents and grandparents alike. It appears when young Dominican kids are complimented on the fairness of their skin; or when Black features such as a wide nose, “¡Que narizón!,” full lips, “Fulana sí tienes una bembona,” or coarse hair, “pelo malo,” are scrutinized. It appears when Dominicans embrace their Spanish ancestry, but refuse to acknowledge their ancestors from the African diaspora. It appears with the widespread acceptance and usage of bleaching creams to achieve a lighter skin tone. One Twitter user even commenting, “This is what self-hate looks like: Sammy Sosa before and after,” in response to former Chicago Cubs player, Sammy Sosa’s usage of bleaching cream, which appeared to dramatically lighten his skin. Although Sosa, who is Dominican, has denied the self-hate claims, there’s no denying the widespread fascination with whiteness in the Dominican Republic and many other Latin American countries.
For Dominicans, the whitewashing of history and the rejection of Blackness have been sewn into the fabric of the country’s identity since the arrival of European colonizers, but it was most evident during the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo. Trujillo ruled the Dominican Republic from 1930 until his assasination in 1961, and during his reign ordered the genocide of thousands of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent living on the island––what is known as the Parsley Massacre of 1937. No one was spared from Trujillo’s rage and hatred towards Black skin; even dark-skinned Dominicans were caught up in the massacre, which became known as “the cutting.”
The name, Parsley Massacre, comes from the way in which Dominicans and Haitians pronounce the Spanish word for parsley, perejil, differently. According to unconfirmed accounts, the pronunciation of perejil was used as a litmus test to identify Haitians.
Trujillo falsely claimed that Haitian bandits were attacking Dominican farmers during a discussion about the massacre with supporters. The killings were carried out by machete to make it appear as an uprising by Dominican farmers against “Haitian thieves” who were supposedly stealing cattle and provisions. To this day, the belief that Haitians are thieves and are “stealing” Dominican jobs is commonly held by anti-Haitian Dominicans, and this argument is often a part of antihaitianismo discourse.
Antihaitianismo runs so deep in the Dominican Republic that we celebrate our separation from Haiti and not our separation from Spanish colonizers during independence day. The antihaitianismo and anti-Blackness that celebrating the country’s separation from Haiti perpetuates has sparked a movement that calls for Dominicans to reimagine Dominican Independence Day. #1865 calls for Dominicans to celebrate the island’s win after the Dominican Restoration War of 1865––a war in which Haiti offered the Dominican Republic support against Spain.
As an Afro-Dominicana, I refuse to reject my Blackness under the guise of Dominican nationalism.
As an Afro-Dominicana, I refuse to reject my Blackness under the guise of Dominican nationalism. I refuse to feed into the anti-Haitian rhetoric that has been prevalent in our country for centuries, and villainize my Haitian brothers and sisters as if we don’t have the same brown skin.
I am not going to sit here and act as if I have always fully embraced my Blackness. Since childhood, I was taught to fear my own marginalization. I would check the “Other” box on questionnaires when I was prompted to identify my race, instead of “Black.” I would smile and accept “compliments” from family members who commented on how light-skinned I was. I would sit for hours in a salon chair, twice a year for 12 consecutive years, to have my hair relaxed in order to achieve a Eurocentric, “pelo bueno” ideal of beauty. It wasn’t until I took an ancestry DNA test which laid out my African ancestry in front of me that I started to fully embrace my Blackness and identify as both Black and Latina. My Blackness sat staring at me throughout my entire life, but it wasn’t until I had the facts in front of me that I started to fully acknowledge it––that’s how ingrained my socialized self-hatred was; that’s how ingrained socialized self-hatred is for many Black Dominicans still coming to terms with their Blackness.
As a Black Dominican woman, I am disappointed by how my fellow Dominicans have reacted to the recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade––and countless others in just the span of two weeks––as well as the nationwide protests as a result. I am angered by the silence by some Latinxs who think the movement is not for them or that the murders of Black men and women does not affect them.
To my fellow Black Dominicans: you are not absolved from police brutality and the systemic racism that plagues America. We don’t get a “pass” when it comes to police brutality; we are also victims of racism and discrimination in education, housing, hiring, and healthcare, just to name a few.
To parents of Black Dominican children: by not teaching your kids how to navigate the world as a Black person, you place them in a vulnerable position when dealing with law enforcement and discrimination. By perpetuating anti-Blackness and antihaitianismo sentiments, you teach your kids to hate the color of their skin, the kinkyness of their hair, and erase an important part of their identity.
The African and Haitian influences are everywhere throughout the Dominican Republic. From the merengue and bachata we listen and dance to during family gatherings, or weekend mornings while doing chores en casa. It’s evident in the Gagá music and celebrations we participate in––a sound that originates from the bateyes, or sugarcane towns, where Dominicans and Haitians live and work side-by-side.
Although I live in a world where my skin color is hated and my identity is constantly called into question, I am proud to be Afro-Dominicana. To be both Black and Latinx is a blessing. To be able to navigate between two worlds, two cultures, two tongues, is a beautiful, intersectional existence.
If you are a Black Dominican, I urge you to fight against the anti-Blackness and antihaitianismo in your household. I urge you to educate yourself and your parents on our country’s history and how we are a part of the African diaspora. We are the children of Taínos, Spanish colonizers, and also African slaves––these circumstances make us susceptible to erasure, but we must not let ourselves be erased. In a world where Black skin is weaponized, we can’t afford to perpetuate anti-Blackness when our livelihoods are at stake. This is our fight too and the sooner we recognize that, the sooner we can mobilize for change.