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15 Black--   but Not Haitian Color, Class, and Ethnicity in the Dominican Republic Ernesto Sagás Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Martin Luther King Jr.,“Letter from a Birmingham Jail,”April 16, 1963 On the surface, the Dominican Republic seems like a racial democracy. It is one of the most racially mixed countries in the world.An estimated three-fourths of the population is classified as mulatto (the offspring of whites and blacks), and the color of black and white minorities is more a matter of convenience for classification purposes than a reflection of their racial“purity.”1 Blacks and mulattos have made it to positions of power, particularly in politics and the military, and the current president, Leonel Fernández (a light-skinned mulatto), is the latest in a long list of nonwhites who have reached the presidency. Historically, slavery declined precipitously after the end of the sixteenth century’s plantation boom, and its final abolition in 1844 affected a proportionally small number of blacks. As such, there is no divisive legacy of exploitation or historical resentment between blacks and whites over the issue of slavery. Dominican culture is strongly influenced by African legacies, and Dominicans do not shy away from extolling the syncretic nature of their food,music,and speech patterns.Afro-Dominicans are quite visible in most spheres of society, and Afro-Dominican baseball players (some of them descendants of English-speaking black immigrants from the British Lesser Antilles) are a source of national pride for their exploits in the U.S. major leagues. Alas, there is trouble in paradise. Class and color cleavages tend to run deep in Dominican society: white and light-skinned elites occupy the upper echelons of the socioeconomic pyramid, while dark-skinned Dominicans are still at the bottom. A light skin tone literally opens many doors in the Dominican Republic , as evidenced by recent (albeit isolated) cases of racial discrimination in  324  Ernesto Sagás some Dominican discotheques. European beauty standards are still prevalent: from bank tellers to TV personalities, Afro-Dominicans are conspicuously absent from the public eye.2 Literature and “high culture” are still the realms of light-skinned Dominicans, as are many of the well-paying professions and the entrepreneurial sector. But where racial inequality truly rears its ugly head is in the treatment of the Dominican Republic’s largest ethnic minority: Haitians. El problema haitiano (the Haitian problem), as many Dominicans writers describe it, is a vexing issue for a nation that otherwise prides itself on its racial harmony. Haitians and their offspring—mostly poor, black, and“foreign”—are routinely subjected to racial and ethnic discrimination, and their human rights have historically been ignored and blatantly violated. Being a Haitian in the Dominican Republic means being a foreign pariah, easily identified by your foreign-sounding name, by your accent, and, more often than not, by your black skin. This chapter examines the current status of blacks in the Dominican Republic , including not only Afro-Dominicans but also Haitian immigrants and their offspring (who technically, by virtue of being born in the Dominican Republic, are Afro-Dominicans too).I argue that in spite of the major strides Dominicans have made toward a more egalitarian, racially inclusive society, major problems persist. In general, the socioeconomic gap between whites and blacks still gives light-skinned Dominicans a privileged place in society when it comes to opportunities , recognition, and even the application of the rule of law. More specifically , the mistreatment of Haitians and the persistent denial of their rights (thus turning them into a veritable underclass in Dominican society) remains a serious problem for the country. Two Nations, One Small Island The Caribbean island of Hispaniola is a geopolitical oddity. Not only are there very few islands in the world that are divided by political boundaries (other examples include St. Martin and Cyprus), but in this particular case the small island of Hispaniola has long been divided into two independent states (dating back to 1844) with widely different backgrounds. While the island was conquered and colonized by the Spanish in the late fifteenth century (who briefly tried their hand at gold mining and sugar production), by the late sixteenth century it had been bypassed for other more profitable mainland territories, leaving behind a languishing colony of Spanish officials,poor whites,mixed-race mestizos and mulattos and a large number of blacks, mostly slaves remaining from the sugar industry’s boom and subsequent bust. The French Crown, eager to...


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