A friend and fellow islandista brought our attention to this article from the Miami Herald from back in 2007.
And … wow!
It certainly gives a lot of perspective on Sammy Sosa’s little ‘skin rejuvenation’ exercise.
We had heard that ‘shadeism’ was bad in the DR but we did not know it was as bad as all this.
Some excerpts from the piece:
And to many in the Dominican Republic, to look pretty is to look less black.
Dominican hairdressers are internationally known for the best hair-straightening techniques. Store shelves are lined with rows of skin whiteners, hair relaxers and extensions.
Racial identification here is thorny and complex, defined not so much by skin color but by the texture of your hair, the width of your nose and even the depth of your pocket. The richer, the “whiter.” And, experts say, it is fueled by a rejection of anything black.
“I always associated black with ugly. I was too dark and didn’t have nice hair,” said Catherine de la Rosa, a dark-skinned Dominican-American college student spending a semester here. “With time passing, I see I’m not black. I’m Latina.
Apparently, part of this goes back to the period that the Dominican Republic was colonised by Haiti.
The only country in the Americas to be freed from black colonial rule — neighboring Haiti — the Dominican Republic still shows signs of racial wounds more than 200 years later. Presidents historically encouraged Dominicans to embrace Spanish Catholic roots rather than African ancestry.
Here, as in much of Latin America — the “one drop rule” works in reverse: One drop of white blood allows even very dark-skinned people to be considered white.
Because of that, few Dominicans actually identify as black, even though their blackness is plain to see.
A walk down city streets shows a country where blacks and dark-skinned people vastly outnumber whites, and most estimates say that 90 percent of Dominicans are black or of mixed race. Yet census figures say only 11 percent of the country’s nine million people are black.
To many Dominicans, to be black is to be Haitian. So dark-skinned Dominicans tend to describe themselves as any of the dozen or so racial categories that date back hundreds of years — Indian, burned Indian, dirty Indian, washed Indian, dark Indian, cinnamon, moreno or mulatto, but rarely negro.
The Dominican Republic is not the only nation with so many words to describe skin color. Asked in a 1976 census survey to describe their own complexions, Brazilians came up with 136 different terms, including café au lait, sunburned, morena, Malaysian woman, singed and “toasted.”
Several women said the cultural rejection of African looking hair is so strong that people often shout insults at women with natural curls.
“I cannot take the bus because people pull my hair and stick combs in it,” said wavy haired performance artist Xiomara Fortuna. “They ask me if I just got out of prison. People just don’t want that image to be seen.”