hair1.jpgSpecial 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.

abrazos,
ramona
———————————————————— —–
Ramona Hernández, 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
Associate Professor
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

Aristy, Marrero. Over. Ciudad Trujillo: “La Opinión, c. por a.,” 1939.

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 política desde las mujeres ante las nuevas formas de racismo: aproximación al análisis de las estrategias.” Republica Dominicana, Mujeres Negras, 2002. http://www.lppuerj.net/olped/AcoesAfirmativas/bancodocumentos.asp [accessed June 20,
2007].

Chapman, Francisco. Race, Identity and Myth in the Spanish Speaking Caribbean: Essays on Biculturalism as a Contested Terrain of Difference. New York; Santo Domingo: 2002.

Davis, Martha Ellen. “Afro-Dominican Religious Brotherhoods: Structure, Ritual, and Music.”
Ph.D. University of Illinois, 1976.

Deive, Carlos Esteban. “Glosario de afronegrismos en la toponimia y el español hablado en Santo Domingo.” Museo del Hombre Dominicano, Boletín No. 5, 1974.

Deive, Carlos Esteban. Los cimarrones de Neiba. Santo Domingo: Banco Central de la Republica Dominicana, 1985.

Encarnación Jiménez, Pedro. Los negros esclavos en la historia de Bayona, Manoguayabo, y otros poblados. Santo Domingo: Editora Alfa y Omega, 1993.

Franco, Franklin J. Los negros, los mulatos, y la nación dominicana. Santo Domingo, Republica
Dominicana: Impresora Vidal, 1998.

Fundacion Cultural Bayahonda. Root Music/Musica Raiz. CD. 1997. Please Visit:

http://www.artelatino.com/bayahonda/creditgr.htm#origin

Harris, Robert, Nyota Harris, and Grandassa Harris, (eds.) Carlos Cooks and Black Nationalism: From Garvey to Malcolm. Dover, Massachusetts: The Majority Press, 1992.

Hernandez, Ramona, and Nancy Lopez. “Dominicans and the Question of Race.” In Alan West,(ed.) Blacks in the Caribbean: The Struggles for Freedom. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2003.

Jimenez, Blas R. Exigencias de un cimarrón (en sueno). Santo Domingo, Republica Dominicana: Editora Taller, 1987.

Liriano, Alejandra. El papel de la mujer de origen africano en el Santo Domingo colonial, siglos XVI-XVII. Santo Domingo, Republica Dominicana: Centro de Investigación Para La Acción Femenina, 1992.

Los Hermanos Rosario. “Los Cueros.” Bomba 2000. CD. 1999.

Mota Acosta, Julio César. Los Cocolos en Santo Domingo. Santo Domingo: Editora “La Gaviota”, 1977.

Moya-Pons, Frank. Dominican Republic: A National History. Princeton, New Jersey: Markus Wiener, 1998.

Perez, Odalis G. La ideología rota: el derrumbe del pensamiento pseudonacionalista dominicano. Santo Domingo, Republica Dominicana: Centro de Información Afroamericano, 2002.

Portalatin, Aida Cartagena. “La llamaban Aurora (Passion for Donna Summer).’” In Ingrid Watson
Miller, (ed.) Afro-Hispanic Literature: An Anthology of Hispanic Writers of African Ancestry. Miami, Florida: Ediciones Universal, 1991: 67-78.

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 Hernández, and Blas R. Jiménez. Desde la orilla: hacia una nacionalidad sin desalojos. Santo Domingo, Republica Dominicana: Editora Manati, 2004.

Sáez, José Luis. La iglesia y el negro esclavo en Santo Domingo: Una historia de tres siglos. Santo Domingo: Patronato de la Ciudad Colonial de Santo Domingo, 1994.

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.

Sidanius, Jim, Yesilernis Pena, and Mark Sawyer. “Inclussionary Discrimination: Pigmentocracy
and Patriotism in the Dominican Republic.” Political Psychology, Vol. 22, No. 4, (2001):
827-851.

Silie, Ruben. Economía, esclavitud y población: ensayos de interpretación histórica del Santo Domingo. Santo Domingo: Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo, 1976.

Valoy, Cuco. “No Me Empuje.” No Me Empuje. LP. 1975.

Vega, Bernardo, et al. Ensayos sobre cultura Dominicana. Santo Domingo: Fundación 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.

  • jeremias vernom

    dear sir or madam: i am a black dominican you are right the goverment in the dominican rep have a agent in not talking about the african history and how much we have in commond with africa more than 80 % dominican are black or from afican desent the connection with africa is every were in the island the way of educating the dominican people about race is by whiting book about the istory of black people in america .

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  • Carlos Bertollini

    By Gabriel Escobar
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Friday, May 14, 1999; Page A03

    NEW YORK—He passes for an African American teenager, easily. The
    talk, the poise, the posture, even the cornrows. He is dressed in the
    trademark style of the urban teen: Baggy jeans, Timberland boots, Versace
    sunglasses, baseball cap. At 17, Jose Mendoza is visibly and inescapably
    black. He brings up Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, race and its
    tribulations. “Why do white people gotta hate black people?” he asked.
    “Know what I’m sayin?’ ”

    He once played a joke at George Washington High School, home to upper
    Manhattan’s immigrants since the early 1920s. Fluent in English and fluent
    in “street,” Mendoza fooled everyone by pretending he was a bona fide
    American black. But this American-born, Spanish-speaking Dominican
    was simply too good. Some Dominicans, not keen on African Americans,
    thought he was too African, too American, too black.

    One day he surprised two Dominican girls derisively talking about him in
    Spanish. “Que fue lo que tu dijiste?” he asked. “What did you say?” His
    Spanish made him suddenly Dominican. From then on, he said recently,
    “they treated me with respect.”

    This is Mendoza’s world, the complex and conflicted world of black
    Latinos. He is at once very black but not quite black enough for many
    African Americans, very Latino but not light enough to matter to most
    Hispanics, American in every way but at the same time inexorably foreign.
    “From the inside we’re Dominicans. From the outside, we’re black,” is how
    he described it.

    Dominicans account for eight in every 10 students at George Washington,
    reflecting the enormous migration of islanders to New York City.
    Dominicans have been the largest immigrant group in the city every decade
    since 1970, and this historic influx has altered the face of the immigrant
    population here and introduced an entirely new culture. To assimilate, or
    even to fit in, the black Latinos must adapt not only to white America and
    black America but to Latino America.

    Their strong ties to the island make them citizens of both countries and, it
    seems, citizens of neither. “They are here and there and in between. Yet
    they are perceived as foreigners in both locations,” noted Luis E. Guarnizo,
    a sociologist at the University of California at Davis and an authority on the
    Dominican migration.

    Nowhere is the assimilation of black Latinos more evident than in New
    York, where Dominicans have flocked in such great numbers. Throughout
    the early 1990s, the Dominican Republic accounted for one in five
    immigrants to the city, an average of 22,000 annually, according to the
    most current figures. By next year, the Dominican population in New York
    City may reach 700,000, the equivalent of many middle-sized cities.

    Between 1990 and 1994, an astonishing 35,657 Dominicans settled in
    Washington Heights, Inwood and Hamilton Heights, contiguous
    neighborhoods in upper Manhattan that have been dramatically altered by
    the legal migration from the Caribbean. Dominicans, skillful at grass-roots
    organization, already are a force on the New York school board and have
    elected two judges, a city councilman and a state assemblyman. Politically
    they have fit in better and faster than most immigrant groups. New York
    City Council member Guillermo Linares, the country’s first elected official
    born in the Dominican Republic, said Dominicans like to refer to
    themselves as “300 percenters–100 percent Dominican Republic, 100
    percent Dominican American and 100 percent American.”

    But on the street and in school, what is skin deep is often what matters.
    While those with Mendoza’s skin color will be automatically identified as
    black, many lighter-skinned Dominicans are not so easily pegged. In his
    writings, the Dominican writer Junot Diaz uses the term “halfie” to describe
    this significant group. One consequence is that many in the community
    define themselves less by color than by cultural identity. “Where you
    gravitate to speaks so loudly,” Linares said, reflecting the unusual position
    many Dominicans are in because so many can literally choose their race.

    Of course, black Dominicans like Mendoza don’t have that choice. And
    while his comfortable identification with African Americans shows he has
    answered a central question faced by Dominicans–black like
    who?–hundreds of thousands must still reconcile their very nuanced views
    on race with the stark black-white reality of their adopted country.

    Finding a place for themselves, much less assimilating, has not been easy.
    Afro-Latinos are largely ignored by leaders of African American national
    groups. “We have to go there and give them evidence that we are black,
    which doesn’t mean they will believe us,” Silvio Torres-Saillant, the director
    of the Dominican Studies Center at the City College of New York, said of
    African American civil rights groups.

    Diaz, whose short fiction has been lauded for capturing the varied
    landscape of the Dominican diaspora, said America’s dialogue between
    blacks and whites is so narrow that it leaves out this large and new
    migration. African Americans “are allowed to be black because they don’t
    speak Spanish,” he said, “but I’m not allowed to be black because I speak
    Spanish.”

    Afro-Latinos are ignored even by some fellow Latinos. And when they’re
    not, they are often depicted in ways no longer tolerated by African
    Americans. While national Hispanic groups bitterly complain about how
    they are portrayed in the English-speaking media, a small group of
    Afro-Latinos has fought, largely in vain, to remove stereotyping in the
    Spanish-language media. Roland Roebuck, an Afro-Latino from Puerto
    Rico, last year wrote a bitter letter about the portrayal of black Latinos to
    Henry Cisneros, a former Clinton administration Cabinet member and now
    president of the powerful Univision network.

    “Imagine for a moment, Mr. Cisneros, how an Afro-Latino family viewing
    your station feels when our people are portrayed in your news, novelas
    and programs as criminal, savage, lazy, slick, sex-driven, violent,
    superstitious, uneducated, undependable and untrustworthy,” wrote
    Roebuck, who works for the District government.

    If Afro-Latinos are sometimes ignored by their own kind, they are
    practically invisible in America. The black Latino, so visible on the streets
    of upper Manhattan and especially in major league baseball, still does not
    register in the collective American definition of who a Hispanic is.

    As if this were not challenge enough, Dominican migrants must also
    reconcile their island’s complex racial code with America’s historically
    contentious one. In the Dominican Republic, the oppressors have generally
    been mulattoes and light-skinned blacks. One of the worst insults for a
    black Dominican is to call him a Haitian. Haiti invaded and occupied the
    Dominican Republic twice and these seminal events heavily influence the
    island’s view on race. “You are what you appear to be,” said
    Torres-Saillant, “which is very different from the generic racial definition
    here.”

    Which is, in essence, what happened to Mendoza when he pulled off his
    joke. Dominican students, seeing his black skin, “dissed” him because he
    was black and seemingly foreign to them. The African American he
    pretended to be became the hated Haitian of the island. In a group of light-
    and brown-skinned students and teachers, the island’s racial sensibilities
    hold sway. Parents’ preference is for sons and daughters to marry “light,”
    according to some teenagers.

    For Dominicans, particularly teenagers, sorting out their racial identity can
    be confusing. Teenagers choose their race, going white or black,
    depending on their own skin tone. “Some of the kids who are darker more
    readily accept the African Americans, and they look to that kind of music,”
    said Thomas Garcia, a Dominican who teaches at the school.

    “You see that black guy? He’s Dominican,” Albert Bonilla, 17, said one
    day between classes, when the hallways were crowded. The student
    Bonilla singled out, like Bonilla himself, was a light-skinned black who was
    “thugged out,” their term for hip-hop getup that defines the group.

    “My grandmother be like, put your pants up! Subate el pantalon!” said
    Bonilla. “You see the way we talk?” he asked. “You don’t hear white
    people talking like that.”

    Mendoza and other black Dominicans identify with African American
    culture–their game, for example, is basketball and not baseball. They talk
    in what is best described as “black spanglish,” a mix of English and Spanish
    with a decidedly hip-hop accent.

    “I used to be a decent boy,” Mendoza said, cracking up the kids around
    him. Now, he said, he filters race through the African American
    experience. “If white people are going to hate me,” he said, “I’m going to
    hate back.”

    Mendoza fulfills the prediction of one study that said the longer black
    Dominicans are in this country the likelier they are to identify with
    American blacks. But after all his talk and posturing, Mendoza steps back
    just a little and, like Linares, plays the percent game. He announces that he
    still prefers rice and beans over American food. He calls it “a Dominican
    plate. The grub.”

    “I’m still part Dominican,” he said, suddenly serious. “That’s my nationality.
    If you become African American, you give your nationality away. That’s
    like saying you’re betraying your country.”

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  • aishasekhmet

    lmao at the worldwide brain washing of african people
    and it dont stop

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  • Sergio Belletti

    the 95% of the dominicans belong to the black race. There is racism there because many people do not want to consider black, they call themselves indio….I did not see any indian there….the indians do not exist no more.

    The Dominicans belong to the black race and they do not like to consider black because the history of the slavery.

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  • Carlos Bertollini

    I was in Dominican Republic and i sure that the 95% of the dominicans belong to the black race. There is racism there because many people do not want to consider black, they call themselves indio….I did not see any indian there….

    -1
    • Georgina

      Um…95% black? I doubt you spent enough time in the DR to make such a broad analysis. Yes, there are many blacks and DR has a very powerful african legacy, but Dominicans are a predominantly mixed people, with the whitest of whites and the blackest of blacks and all shades in between. Understand that the term “black” doesn’t adequately describe a person of tri-patriate culture and background.

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