Special Thanks Afro-Dominicano for Making Us Aware of this Article.
By: Christina Violeta Jones and Pedro R. Rivera
On June 13, 2007, the Miami Herald ran a story titled “Black Denial” by journalist Frances Robles. Featuring images and pointing to experiences of women in the Dominican Republic, the piece sought to underline a topic that many stereotypically associate with this country—a level of racial confusion that presumably finds no parallel in the Caribbean or Latin American regions.
We do not intend here to write a paper to challenge observations that seem to pathologize the Dominican people’s definition of their identity (we rather save the retort for our academic dissertations), but to identify some of the misinformation contained in “Black Denial” and raise other concerns. Beyond its dissemination in the paper, the article was widely circulated in influential electronic forums and message boards, causing immediate outrage.
In order to make the article worthy of its title, Ms. Robles chose not to focus on the positive impact by the works of torchbearers in the Dominican Republic. In “Black Denial,” the deeds of people who have dedicated their lives to spread the ancestral legacy of preserving and honoring our African heritage only serve the reporter to convey a message of local frustration and defeat. The story began to take a familiar path.
However, our concerns increased when Ms. Robles failed to give proper treatment to Manuel Nunez. Nunez is briefly depicted and offers a relatively unprejudiced opinion on Haitian-Dominican matters. But Nunez’s book, El ocaso de la nacion dominicana, represents one of the highest expressions of anti-Haitian and Negrophobic discourses in the Dominican Republic, and if the reporter wanted to render a careful account of “black self-denial,” Nunez would have certainly been cast in a very different light, if not given center stage in the discussion.
But by far, the clearest discrepancy in the story was the comments attributed to two academic representatives of the Dominican population in the United States, Dr. Ramona Hernandez, Director of the CUNY Dominican Studies Institute at City College in New York City, and Dr. Ginetta E. B. Candelario, Professor of Sociology at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. The quickest reading of their alleged comments leads to a strong sense of disbelief for anyone familiar with their ideas. Their words are conflated to support the ideology of whitening as a way of racial, personal, and professional improvement for women of color. This is clearly in sharp contrast to the critical views we find in the research both of these scholars have published and sponsored.
After the comments appeared in the newspaper, we made telephone calls to Drs. Hernandez and Candelario demanding an explanation. We were stunned by their accounts. We were given evidence that the editor of the Miami Herald, for reasons unknown to them and us, failed to publish their letters of response in which they terribly lament the distortion, mischaracterization, misquotation, and de-contextualization of their comments. Allowing misinformation and confusion to prevail in public platforms, the paper failed to give Drs. Hernandez and Candelario a chance to speak.
In the future, researchers will look back to the Miami Herald as a primary source, and the general public today must be interested in making sure that newspapers collect and report data responsibly. The mistaken approach by the journalist raises questions at fundamental levels, and the editor’s reluctance to correct the misinformation in “Black Denial” seriously compromises the integrity of the Miami Herald as a respectable entity.
While the voices of Drs. Hernandez and Candelario in the United States were constrained to a few words later in “Letters to the Editor” (06/20/07), we should continue to discuss whether the Miami Herald accurately represented the opinions and experiences of the homeland-Dominicans featured in “Black Denial.”
We are circulating the letters by Drs. Hernandez and Candelario to the editor of the Miami Herald (as provided to us). We are also suggesting further readings and references beyond the article published in the Miami Herald. As it is, we believe that “Black Denial” not only degrades the intellectual reputation and public image of two distinguished Dominican scholars, but also it reinforces prevalent stereotypes impinged upon the entire Dominican population in the homeland and in the diaspora.
To the Editor:
The portrayal of the views attributed to me in your article of June 13, “Black Denial,” is utterly false, and absolutely opposed not only to what I believe, but also to what I have dedicated my professional life to changing.
In fact, the interview “quoted” in this article took place immediately after a lecture by Professor Ginetta Candelario on “Black Behind the Ears: Blackness in Dominican Identity from Museums to Beauty Shops” at the Dominican Studies Institute (cosponsored by the CUNY Institute for Research on the African Diaspora in the Americas and the Caribbean), designed to address the issue of Dominican identity.
The most charitable interpretation of the attribution of these completely offensive and inexcusable remarks to me is that the reporter conflated my characterization of racist attitudes that unfortunately still exist among some Dominicans with my own opinions. They are not — and I very much regret and resent that they were credited to me.
Ramona HernÃ¡ndez, Ph.D.
Director, CUNY Dominican Studies Institute &
Professor of Sociology
The City College of New York
Convent Avenue at 138th Street
New York, NY 10031
Tel. (212) 650-7496
Fax (212) 650-7489
To the editor:
The comments attributed to me in your article of June 13, “Black Denial,” are a shockingly simplistic and distorted misrepresentation both of the research I presented at the Dominican Studies Institute in the fall of 2006, for which Ms. Robles was present, and of the interview I granted her afterwards.
I explained at length to Ms. Robles the argument in my forthcoming book, Black Behind the Ears: Dominican Identity from Museums to Beauty Shops (Duke University Press, 2007) — that racial formations in the Dominican Republic and among Dominicans in New York and Washington, D.C. are the product the country’s historic relationships to Spain, Haiti, and the United States, and of its people’s persistently disadvantaged and vulnerable position in the hemisphere’s economic order.
In lieu of engaging any of that research, the article resorts to facile attributions of self-hatred, denial or social pathology to Dominicans as whole. The reality – historic and contemporary – is far more complex than that.
It is sadly troubling that Ms. Robles’ piece failed to convey that complexity and instead repeated sensationalist and tired stereotypes.
Ginetta E.B. Candelario
Sociology and Latin American & Latina/o Studies
Program for the Study of Women and Gender Committee Member Smith College
Northampton, MA 01063
Tel: (413) 585-3454
Fax: (413) 585-3554
“The fact that we can easily say the things about which they, out of understandable fear, must keep silent almost imposes on us the duty of saying them. The silences they leave, we have the power to fill.”
Silvio Torres-Saillant, 2005
An Abbreviated List of Readings and References
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Baez, Josefina. Dominicanish: A Performance Text. New York: I Ombe, 2000.
Batista, Celsa Albert. Mujer y esclavitud en Santo Domingo. Santo Domingo, Republica Dominicana: Ediciones CEDEE, 1993.
Candelario, Ginetta. “Voices from Hispaniola: A Meridians Roundtable with Edwidge Danticat, Loida Maritza Perez, Myriam J.A. Chancy, and Nelly Rosario.” Meridians, Vol.5, No. 1, (2004): 69-91.
Candelario, Ginetta. Black Behind the Ears: Dominican Racial Identity from Museums to Beauty Shops. Durham: Duke University Press, 2007.
Curiel, Ochy. “La lucha polÃtica desde las mujeres ante las nuevas formas de racismo: aproximaciÃ³n al anÃ¡lisis de las estrategias.” Republica Dominicana, Mujeres Negras, 2002. http://www.lppuerj.net/olped/AcoesAfirmativas/bancodocumentos.asp [accessed June 20,
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Torres-Saillant, Silvio. “Introduction to Dominican Blackness.” New York: Dominican Studies Working Papers Series, CUNY Dominican Studies Institute, City College of New York,1999. 827-851.
Torres-Saillant, Silvio, Ramona HernÃ¡ndez, and Blas R. JimÃ©nez. Desde la orilla: hacia una nacionalidad sin desalojos. Santo Domingo, Republica Dominicana: Editora Manati, 2004.
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Sanchez-Carretero, Cristina. “Santos y Misterios as Channels of Communication in the Diaspora: Afro-Dominican Religious Practices Abroad.” Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 118, No. 469 (2005): 308-326.
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Valoy, Cuco. “No Me Empuje.” No Me Empuje. LP. 1975.
Vega, Bernardo, et al. Ensayos sobre cultura Dominicana. Santo Domingo: FundaciÃ³n Cultural Dominicana y Museo del Hombre Dominicano, 1990.
Ventura, Johnny with Celia Cruz. “La Carimba.” Celia’s Duets. CD, 1997.
Christina Violeta Jones, Ph.D. Student, Howard University, Washington, D.C.
Pedro Rivera, Ph.D. Student, Howard University, Washington, D.C.