Antes Muerta que Negra: Psychological Implications of Denying Blackness in the Dominican Republic

Anabel in the Dominican Republic
Ms. Anabel Encarnación
2017
Major(s): 
Psychology
Hometown: 
Bronx, NY

To my beloved, and divided island:

I felt as you received my now aged foreignness. You birthed me as a silent cry for help, to mend the division. To you, I am more than just a mere girl, and so you fill me with big dreams. I have come back to you to learn more about the past and present to aid the future.

During my stay, I saw the ways in which thing have changed, and seemingly have not. In the city of Santo Domingo, in the Zona Colonial (Colonial Zone), I watched young women wearing their hair free or relaxers and other chemicals. At the same time, I saw women coming out of the hair salon with newly relaxed hair. I noticed that hair is not just hair; it is a sociopolitical identity.

Hair has taken its own sociopolitical stance. To wear hair straight and relaxed is a comfort zone, a safe zone. It is professional and socially acceptable. It is an expectation to tame your coily, nappy, or curly hair so that it no longer defies gravity. Hair in the Dominican Republic plays a particular racial role. Race is not just based on colorism, but on hair texture.

Everyone seems to have different conceptions of you, my divided island. Several academics, that have dedicated their lives to study your blackness such as Dagoberto Tejeda, understand you as a product of your history. He too, identifies Trujillo as the antithesis of what could have otherwise been a united island. As Mr. Tejeda and I stood outside of the Center of Culture at the Universidad de Santo Domingo, we watched the colorful beings you have birthed.

Race is truly a social concept, invented and reinvented with time, sweat, blood, and tears. But the pervasiveness of Trujillo’s regime stained our side of the island. However, no amount of bleaching creams and hair relaxers can erase his legacy.

At the Museum of the Dominican Resistance I realized that my skin is not my skin.

Research on Blackness in the Dominican Republic is one that is new, but patrons have indulged in the conversation for many years now. Common folks understand the concept of colorism, but not that one of race. Sitting in local cafeterias I heard as people spoke about race, and still used skin color descriptors like indiesita (Indian), or moreno (brown), carefully avoiding the word Black.

I know that you are tired, but the more the hide from the sun to avoid the darkening of skin, the more you make the sun shine. You thank such entities like Miss Rizos for generating a space safe for those who admire and adored their darkness.

While visiting you I realized the importance of my research, and related research. In studying what others find mundane, everyday social interactions, while paying careful attention to the environments that foster racial awareness, one can begin to understand—as well as experience—the implications of denying blackness in you, Dominican Republic.

I hope that your sons and daughters become aware of their much negated African heritage, and begin to defy Trujillo’s, as well as the violent colonial legacies left in you.

I hope that through continued research opportunities, I am able to help raise awareness of the blackness most of my Dominican brothers and sisters insist on negating. I hope to aid those that dare to defy societal expectations, and appreciate their black skins.

With much unconditional love,

Your black daughter,

Anabel.

~~

Thank you to Mr. and Mrs. Hallenback and the Hallenback Endowment for International Research and Studies for allowing for my return to research race relations in the Dominican Republic.

Photos: 
Center of Culture at the Universidad de Santo Domingo
Study Abroad: 
Research grant in Dominican Republic
2017
Donor: 
Hallenback Endowment for International Research and Studies