Colonialism has done a number on our people.
The recent going ons in the Dominican Republic expelling their dark-skinned Haitian brethren has exposed to the world the larger issue of what colonial rule has done to the diaspora—and how it plays out in self-hate, racism and colorism. The Dominican authorities are basing whom they deport on appearance, meaning if you are darker-complected you will have problems in the D.R. Even the United States government has come to understand what is at hand, as dark-skinned African-Americans who have no Haitian lineage are being swept up in the island country's "migrant crackdown" and are being abused. “In some cases, authorities have not respected these individuals’ legal status in the Dominican Republic or nationality. These actions may lead to increased interaction with Dominican authorities, especially for darker-skinned U.S. citizens and U.S. citizens of African descent,” noted the bulletin from the U.S. embassy. It also warns of detainees being held “without the ability to challenge their detention, and without access to food or restroom facilities, sometimes for days at a time.”
After 22 years of rule, the Dominican Republic got its freedom from Haiti. Not Spain, but Haiti, its mostly darker-complected neighbor on the island of Hispaniola. And since then, in the D.R., a high level of disdain for Haitians, a people which they associate with Blackness, has been observed.
What we are seeing today is learned behavior that has been passed down through generations from the slave masters, where they pit brother against brother, implying one is better than the other. I bet if we did a DNA test on most Dominicans, most of the population would discover that they have Haitian blood—that they are the same people. That they are cousins if not brothers.
And while you probably have seen the memes, “I no Black, I Dominican,” which may quickly elicit laughter, after careful deliberation it becomes apparent the sentiment is more complex and arguably stems from colonial trauma.
Even historically, Dominican presidents have prompted an impression that anything Haitian and or Black is lesser than. Case in point, Rafael Trujillo, the Dominican dictator—who funnily enough was rumored to have Haitian roots—persistently encouraged an anti-Haitian and anti-Black sentiment of his people. (Much like Hitler, who was rumored to have Jewish blood, hailed those of Aryan features and heritage while persecuting those of Jewish lineage).
Now, in 2022 as the Dominican Republic intensifies the deportation of Haitian nationals, Black Americans that go to the D.R. are being cautioned about getting entangled in the move.
“Travelers to the Dominican Republic have reported being delayed, detained, or subject to heightened questioning at ports of entry and in other encounters with immigration officials based on their skin color,” the U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo has warned in a recent alert.
“Dominican Migration (DGM) agents have conducted widespread operations aimed at detaining those they believe to be undocumented migrants, especially persons of Haitian descent. In some cases, authorities have not respected these individuals’ legal status in the Dominican Republic or nationality. These actions may lead to increased interaction with Dominican authorities, especially for darker-skinned U.S. citizens and U.S. citizens of African descent,” the alert added.
The nerve! Yet, as a mangú-loving Black girl, the fact that people of African descent are being targeted in the Dominican Republic does not surprise me. From what I’ve seen many Dominicans loathe the thought of anything Black. What’s even sadder is most Dominicans have Black blood flowing through their veins as a result of slavery but can’t accept it. Do you remember when baseball great the Dominican Sammy Sosa one day appeared to have bleached his skin and straightened his hair? There’s an ongoing joke—“Dominicans are Black, but don’t tell them.” Why? It seems being Black is a source of shame for many when it really should be the opposite.
With a population of almost 11 million people, many Dominicans don’t realize they are Black until they get to the U.S. where they are “Black” like everyone else, and the lack of self-awareness must sting when it's finally found.
I have had the opportunity to be around lovely people who were born in the D.R. However, as affable as many have been, there sometimes is a chip on their shoulder about being Black, even though visually there was no denying their African ancestry. It’s like there was a mental block, so much so that while having Black features they would sometimes talk badly about other Black people for being Black.
I have a level of sadness about this because as a melanin-rich sister I can’t imagine not loving this beautiful skin I’m in. However, as a Jamaican, I can’t deny that my country also has deep-rooted issues with skin color and Black features. (And don’t get me started on the colorism in the U.S.) However, if I’m to think deeper, all countries that have been colonized have these issues to some extent. Right now, it just seems to be on a larger scale and more noticeable and problematic in the D.R. Damn you, Christopher Columbus!
And yes, many Dominicans have embraced their Afrocentricity and heritage, so to blanket all Dominicans would be unfair. And, I'm not talking about them. Yet, right now what is going on in their homeland is also a problem that needs to be addressed, and addressed immediately.