- Blackness and Meaning in Studying Hispaniola: A Review Essay
Eugenio Matibag’s Haitian-Dominican Counterpoint: Nation, Race, and State on Hispaniola and Dawn F. Stinchcomb’s The Development of Literary Blackness in the Dominican Republic participate meaningfully in the scholarly conversation about the meaning of race, nation, and cultural identity in Dominican society, with particular attention to its rapport with neighboring Haiti. The two studies do well what they set out to do, thus earning a place of notice within a growing academic bibliography on this subject. Matibag, associate professor of Spanish at Iowa State University, and Stinchcomb, assistant professor of foreign languages and literatures at Purdue University, examine questions similar to those explored in recent years in other studies coming from various other disciplines. Salient among these are Why the Cocks Fight: Dominicans, Haitians, and the Struggle for Hispaniola (New York: Hill and Wang, 1999) by journalist Michele Wucker; Race and Politics in the Dominican Republic (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2000) by political scientist Ernesto Sagás; Coloring the Nation: Race and Ethnicity in the Dominican Republic (Oxford and Boulder: Signal Books and Lynne Rienner Publishers, [End Page 180] 2001) by geographer David J. Howard; and Language, Race, and Negotiation of Identity: A Study of Dominican Americans (New York: LFB Scholarly Publishers, 2002) by linguist Benjamin H. Bailey.
One may assess the contributions made by Matibag and Stinchcomb in light of the discursive conventions that have prevailed in the bibliography on the question of race among Dominicans. A distinguishing feature of the conventional wisdom on this subject is a tendency to pass judgment on the Dominican population’s “backwardness,” “ignorance,” or “confusion” on account of their inaccurate self-definition. The following words said nearly three decades ago by Leslie B. Rout, Jr., encapsulate the tone and the tenor of the typical formulation: “A mulatto nation situated in the Negroid Caribbean is undoubtedly ailing if it cannot accept its racial image. … the glorification of Caucasian features by the mulatto majority is disturbing and, for the black majority, psychologically disjunctive.”1 More indictment than analysis, Rout’s view dates from a time when scholars could regard racial identity as a stable ascription unproblematically linked to a biological reality. Scholars today for the most part describe race as a social construction. Even so, commentators on the race question in Dominican society persist in suggesting that Dominicans get it wrong when they speak of themselves racially, implying that some constructions are more accurate than others.
Fraught with the avatars of the discursive conventions embraced by Rout, studies that attend to racial dynamics in Dominican society will construe the community under perusal as racially anomalous. That interpretation, I contend, can hold only if one omits the racial exegeses of Dominicans themselves and if one overlooks alternative narratives that would place Dominicans at the forefront of the struggle for black liberation in the modern world. The proponents of that interpretation pay insufficient attention to the preeminence of Santo Domingo as the inaugural stage for the first discernable fruits of the cultural and political legacy of people of African descent in the Western Hemisphere. They overstate the significance of Haiti in the tribulations of Dominican blackness and falsely portray the country’s official cultural commissars as uniquely negative in their representations of Haitians. They exaggerate the exceptionality of Negrophobia in the ethno-racial constructions of the Dominican nation. They pathologize the racial misconduct discernible in given chapters of Dominican history, often imputing to the entire Dominican population the words and deeds of the country’s rulers and the intellectual [End Page 181] elites who serve as their scribes. Their failure to consider the Dominican case in a comparative perspective leads to their unnecessary befuddlement. The regional context would at least reveal that societies throughout the hemisphere came into being as a result of racial crime. Genocide was the basis of the conquest and colonization of the...