Academic journal article Afro - Hispanic Review

"La Calle Es Libre": Race, Recognition, and Dominican Street Theater

Academic journal article Afro - Hispanic Review

"La Calle Es Libre": Race, Recognition, and Dominican Street Theater

Article excerpt

Much has been made of the recent ruling by the Tribunal Constitucional Dominicano, a ruling revoking citizenship back to 1929 from those born in the Dominican Republic but deemed to be "in transit." The ruling is effectively, if not explicitly, aimed at hundreds of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian origin who have known no other state than the Dominican Republic. The indignant response to the antihaitianismo driving this ruling, justifiable as it is, has also fomented a barrage of print and online commentary that does little more than serve as an echo chamber about Dominican attitudes regarding their own blackness. As the narrative holds, Dominicans are, always have been (and perhaps always will be) self-hating, negrophobic, and anti-Haitian.

One particularly strident example is Glen Ford's online radio commentary at Black Agenda Report. Ford denounces the Dominican Republic as "a country where self-hatred is the national creed," "an overwhelmingly mulatto nation that seems constantly at war with its own blackness," and as a country that "has no national identity except in opposition to the deeper blackness of Haiti." Ford quickly moves this national critique to the level of Dominicans en masse, leveling a woefully uncritical charge at all Dominicans for their universal anti-Haitianism: "Dominicans . . . are perpetually resentful that the deep black presence of Haiti is always there to remind them of their indelible African origins. Unable to purge themselves of their blackness, Dominicans periodically attempt to dispel the Haitians." Echoes of this narrative can be heard through links to other articles in Ford's report, but also in the episode on Haiti and the Dominican Republic in Henry Louis Gates's Black in Latin America. Coupled with their reverberations in the US academy, such commentary threatens to drown out any discordant analysis, effectively cementing the idea that the Dominican Republic is the racial pariah of the Americas.1

Exacerbating this critical problem is the general failure of scholarship in the United States to heed Silvio Torres-Saillant's caution: "any inquiry must . . . avert the pitfalls of investigating Dominican attitudes about race exclusively through the words of the scribes of the ruling class; despite their negrophobia from colonial times to the present, it is inevitable to find the omnipresence of black contribution to Dominican culture" ("Tribulations" 1088). Furthermore, even well-meaning "rescue" attempts introduce bases of their one. For example, in the Dominican halfepisode of Black in Latin America, black-affirming Dominican writers and scholars are included in the discussion; however, the comments that make it into circulation discuss race in ways recognizable to "a bichromatic model of difference" (Chude- Sokei 16) or a "racial polarity" (Torres-Saillant, "Tribulations" 1090) predominant in the United States, a conceptualization of race foregrounding a black-white racial binary. The sense of Dominican racial dysfunction is compounded by the idea that Dominicans "discover" that they are black precisely because of experiences with the "bichromatic model" of US racism or anti-racist struggle. Thus, US scholarship on Dominican race relations doubly "fundamentalizes" race, first by prioritizing race and blackness in such a way as to render other modalities insignificant, and second by making US racial studies the foundation-the fundamental grounds-upon which a critique of Dominican race relations is mounted. Antihaitianismo and negrophobia thus become one and the same and both reveal Dominicans' racial self-hatred.

However, as historian Lauren Derby cogently argues, "Anti-Haitianism must be understood as more than racism as such" (495).2 Derby and Richard Turits's studies of the Haitian-Dominican border underscore the complexity underlying the historical articulations between race, Haitianness, and Dominicanness. Ginetta Candelario introduces a similar complexity in what she dubs the "strategic ambiguity" of Dominican racial discourses articulated across multiple sites-in Santo Domingo, Santiago de los Caballeros, New York City, and Washington, DC- and in particular around "identity displays" in museums, beauty shops, and hair culture (262). …

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