Sammy Sosa & black denial in the DR

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 cafĂ© 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.”

7 comments for “Sammy Sosa & black denial in the DR

  1. eleona1
    November 12, 2009 at 10:22 pm

    I just want to leave a comment about how the Dominicans still have racial wounds due to Haiti’s colonial rule in the past. All people of black descent that were colonized by Europe have a problem with their blackness. Nobody wants to nappy headed in the United States now even though it is over 30 years since the black power movement. The Afro picks should have taught us something. Also my parents are from Haiti and that black on black racist stuff is there too. No one wants to marry someone that is too black or has nappy hair because they want a light skin baby with “good hair”. I do agree that certain countries probably deny their African Ancestry more than others but it’s still there… it’s even in Nigeria and South Africa.

  2. eleona1
    November 12, 2009 at 10:22 pm

    Also forgot to let you know of my blog. Which is blackonblackcrime.wordpress.com

  3. Ronnie
    November 13, 2009 at 12:13 pm

    What surprised me is that it took Sammy Sosa soooo long to succumb to the bleaching. At this late stage in his life? One would think he’d be above that madness at his age. Crazy.
    I can tell you the Dominican mentality is astonishing and real. I live in NY and I’ve interacted with many obviously black and brown-skinned black Dominicans. And they will NEVER consider themselves Black. Never. They say they’re Spanish, Latino/a, ‘dark’ (as in Indian brown), morena/o.

    And so true about the hair, I’ve never seen a Dominican woman in NY sport natural hair, not even soft curls we islandistas call “good hair”. They all sport straightened hair.
    To read that article is an eye-opener, and seeing how African identity is scorned over in DR in ways that make me as a black West Indian cringe. Truly sad and puzzling.

  4. zaira
    November 13, 2009 at 3:11 pm

    As I agree that identity politics in places like the DR and other post colonial societies are very different from the english speaking caribbean. but how different? because the fact is that trans-atlantic slavery and colonialisim has shaped our racial identifications such as black. as they have also shaped our conceptions on beauty, which is why u have people bleaching. Dominicans like people from post colonial societies cannot simply identify themsleves as black, as a result of hybridity. Being of mixed ancestry conflicts with societie’s construction of “blackness”. I’m not ignoring the political and social implications of racial identifications, but to say we have to recognize what exists outside of the black and white binary.

    • Mark Brown
      November 14, 2009 at 12:30 pm

      Yes u are right , the thing about that is just about all african-american are mixed with white, but most of us still claim black , i think it has something to do with the spanish tongue and having another title for spanish speaking people in the americans . That term is Latino. I think they have a easy out they now can call themselves Latinos instead of black. I feel black is black most black people in the americans lock different than black in africa but we are all black. What makes us black americans meaning , africans in the americans is the mixing…..That s why we look different from most africans…..but we are all african descent.

  5. November 13, 2009 at 6:00 pm

    nice article you dug up. very enlightening.

  6. dcnot
    November 20, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    Mark Brown I agree with you for the most part, except the whole we look different than africans deal. Africa is the MOST DIVERSE continent in the world. Depending on what part of africa you are in you could blend in solely on looks.

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