Convenient Blackness is en vogue in America and the rest of the “Americas” as well. While we were caught up in the ridiculousness of “She who shall not be named” and the tragedy in Charleston, the Dominican Republic is deporting tens of thousands of Haitian-Dominicans to a country many of them have never lived in.
I am not Haitian or Dominican and I don’t claim to be. I am an outsider and some would say it’s convenient for me, an American, to comment on this issue. The truth of the matter is that the underlying racial dynamic behind the DR’s deportation laws exist in every country in the African Diaspora including the US. We can’t ignore it, especially when it serves as reminder of the ultimate result of respectability politics: A divided people.
I reached out to one of my Dominican childhood friends, let’s call her Lisa, hoping that she would assuage my worries and inform me of the Dominicans, in the US and on the island, who oppose the law. I was sadly mistaken. She told me there are some that disagree, but most accept it as a matter-of-fact. The Haitians are going back to where they belong.
Lisa comes from a mixed family. Her mother’s side is a standard “Jim Brown” brown. Her father’s side “De Barge family” beige. Over the course of her life, she’s witnessed a tacit recognition of Blackness from both sides. She’s seen lightskinned babies fawned over and heard warnings to not marry African Americans, because nappy hair. To her father’s family, she’s “india.” To her mother’s side she’s a “morenita.” But, to be black, to be “negro” is a little too close to being Haitian. According to Lisa’s dreadlocked aunt, the law is good. Haitians are less educated, they’re dirty, and they’re uncivilized.
“They’re dragging us down.”
We’ve heard this misguided narrative too many times. It’s peculiar that a people who have benefitted so greatly from emigration would be so virulently against it when immigrants inconvenience them at their doorstep. Hmm…I wonder what the reason could be?
Lisa has never seen a Dominican women as dark as her mother on television. If you all you knew about Dominicans came from the media, you’d be shocked to find out that all Dominicans aren’t indeterminately beige. Some are fair-skinned, and many, yes even the women, are Black. But, a good portion are only conveniently so. For many, Africanness is rarely referred to apart from from their Spanish and Indigenous roots and almost never held in high regard. And, for the Dominicans who feel this way, you may never quite get one to admit their Blackness to you, but there are some convenient situations when it does happen. Perhaps when a fair-skinned Dominican calls you “his nigga” but also reminds you not to be upset, cuz “He’s Black too.” Or when Yasmin at the salon wants your business, claiming she lays a relaxer just as good as Jasmine.
Sadly, when it’s time to have sympathy for Haitian immigrants, they are the other. They’re dirty, they’re lazy, and other coded terms for “ain’t shit negroes.”
Respectability politics and cultural brainwashing are a terrifying mix. I’ve never known any indigenous people to need a relaxer. But I’m sleep.
A common line of thought is that this is simply an economic issue. That the DR is simply overrun with Haitians immigrants it can’t support. And this is a sovereign nation solving an immigration problem. Haitians were given ample time to provide documentation they may have never been given and register with the government before they were rounded into “Welcome Centers.”
This argument almost appears cogent until the cracks begin to appear: “You don’t understand our history! We were under Haitian rule for 22 years!”
You doth protest too much, DR.
It takes true passion to inconvenience yourself for a cause. Deportations are not cheap. Heck, a wall might have been a more reasonable choice. But a supposedly financially strapped nation found the cash to set this in motion and effectively render tens of thousands of people stateless. This is about race and it always has been. In 2013, the first iteration of this law retroactively stripped Haitian descendants of their citizenship as far back as 1929. That’s pre-civil rights act, pre-Trujillo massacre, Pre-Dr. King and flagrantly, pathologically racist. International pressure forced the DR to create the current version of the law and hide their initial intentions under the veneer of economic policy.
Lisa told me a story of boy she used to play with in Santo Domingo. They called him “Caco Play” which in Dominican slang means, “Baseball field head.” This boy was teased mercilessly, not because of his apparently misshapen head but because he “looked like a Haitian.” He was midnight Black. If he lived up to his name sake and made millions of dollars in Major League Baseball, would he look conveniently Dominican then?
Yo DR, being black isn’t convenient. It wasn’t for Caco Play, and isn’t for the rest of us either. Sammy Sosa’s transformation into an albino vampire should have been the first warning that this cognitive dissonance is getting out of hand. Is remaining the appropriate shade of brown so important that you deport your own people to a foreign country?
My grandmother and uncles immigrated to the US. I understand the desire for a “controlled” and “fair” process. The Dominican government will tell you that there are many factors involved and much thought has gone into crafting this policy. That may be true, but just like in US, the racial motivations behind immigration policy couldn’t be more transparent.