5 Uncomfortable Truths About Blackness in the Dominican Republic

by Amanda Machado Jul 22, 2015

1. In the late 1930’s, then dictator Rafael Trujillo oversaw the ethnic cleansing of thousands of Haitians.

This was often known as the The Parsley Massacre. The massacre’s name derived from the method it was rumored Trujillo used to decide which people to kill: troops would ask citizens to pronounce “perejil”, the Spanish word for parsley, and whoever didn’t have a Spanish inflection was promptly murdered.

Trujillo later also established a detailed plan to “lighten” the Dominican race. The plan included allowing more Jewish refugees to enter the country, as well as exiles from the Spanish Civil war. He tried filling universities and hospitals with light-skinned professionals to create a great presence of whiteness in professional areas. Some say he even tried altering the Merengue dance so that it more modeled the European waltz. Dominicans were also often encouraged to marry white partners, or partners with lighter skin, with the hope that the nation would become more successful the lighter its citizens became.

2.  Because of societal disdain for dark complexions, many Dominicans — including popular Dominican baseball player Sammy Sosa — have bleached their skin.

After using bleaching treatments, Sammy Sosa even thought of possibly endorsing the product to others. As Dominican-American writer Ghislaine Leon wrote in an article for San Francisco Bayview: “This internal self-hate inflicted upon us by our Dominican families goes back generations. Line after line of Dominican families have hated their skin because it was not light enough or because they didn’t have long, silky hair like their Eurocentric-Dominican brothers and sisters.”

3. Though more than 85% of Dominicans are said to have descended from Africa, in a recent census, only 4% of Dominicans classified themselves as “black”.

DNA evidence has estimated that as much as 85% of Dominicans have African ancestry. Less than .08% have ancestry from Europe. But on a recent census,  82% of Dominicans chose to classify themselves as “indio”, a term many Dominicans have adopted for any person with slightly darker skin. As Henry Louis Gates Jr. , an African-American history professor from Harvard, said in a reflection about who is deemed black in the Dominican Republic after he visited the country, “Who is black? Who is “negro”? Why, the Haitians!”

4. A lynching of a black Haitian happened as recently as February of this year.

In February, a black man of Haitian descent was found in a city park, hanged from a tree and beaten. Authorities refused to state that racism or xenophobia were motivations for the incident, yet many thought the connection was obvious. The death also came only hours after a group of Dominicans in Santiago, the country’s second largest city, were seen publicly burning the Haitian flag.

5. And just last year, Dominican Carnival parades allowed the demonstration of white supremacy symbols.

The DR’s 2014 Carnival parade included a procession of people dressed as the Ku Klux Klan. The Minister of Culture defended the group saying “every group is free to choose their themes” and “express their creativity.” 

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