One of the most interesting aspects of identity are the labels used to define in what groups belong different types of people. These labels can be different in one country vs another or the labels may be the same but have a different meaning in each place. Not knowing these nuances are the culprit for many people confusing themselves and judging one society with the prism of another. The end result is that when judging a different country through the prism of another, the conclusion is completely wrong since the country they describe is one that never existed. In this case, we will examine the labels, their meanings and usage in the United States vs the Dominican Republic. In addition, we will examine how seeing one country through the social reality of another creates an incorrect vision of the country being analyzed.
A Racial Society: The United States
The United States evolved at first from the British Empire and that has implications that impacted the country’s identities well after its independence. One of the ways the British used to govern all their colonies regardless where they were found around the world was through the belief that the British should not mix with the non-whites. They managed this by keeping each group of people segregated in different residential areas, which helped in discouraging racial mixing. After the United States was created there were certain laws implemented meant to keep this rigidity along the perceived racial lines. Among these were the anti-miscenigation laws applied in many states (the last state to eliminate these laws was Alabama in 1999) which basically made racial mixing illegal. Other policies adopted culminated in what is known as segregation which was based on the concept of separate but equal. In reality, whites and blacks were kept separate, even having the absurdity of segregated bathrooms and water fountains with the black schools, bathrooms, etc being visibly inferior than those for whites.
Another way that the discouragement of racial mixing was encouraged in American society was the implementation of racial labels. In order to increase the number of slaves after the importation of new slaves was outlawed in the United States was the tendency to consider mixed people as entirely a part of the “inferior race.” In the case of black and white mixture, the mulatto or mixed offspring often would be considered black rather than mulatto or mixed. This wasn’t entirely applied in all cases and for a time terms such as mulatto were present in American forms such as the national census. As the time went on, the United States intensified this notion of considering mixed race individuals as part of the “inferior race” and the black-white dychotomy eventually evolved to the “one-drop-rule.” The implication was that one drop of African blood made a person black regardless if genetically and/or in terms of features were or looked mostly or entirely white. Another underlying premise of the one-drop-rule was that whites should remain as “racially pure” as possible. From this evolved the premise that whites were only the most white people and any visible non-white admixture meant that individual was not white. Terms such as white or black were no longer descriptors of skin color, but rather a collection of features that included but was not limited to skin color.
This was a very bizarre way of seeing things that existed only in the United States, because even other countries that evolved from the British Empire and had very rigid racial boundaries, such as South Africa or Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), mixed race individuals were seen and treated as the mixed race people they were. While the one-drop-rule is no longer applied in racial laws in the United States, it’s still socially and informally applied by many in the United States. Equally this is being challenged by others, particularly mixed race individuals who feel comfortable with the reality of who they are and wish to identify as mixed race and not implying that they are more or less loyals to the whites or the blacks.
Lastly, another way the United States historically discourage racial mixing is the incorrect notion thwt if a mixed race individual doesn’t accepts a black identity, somehow they must be confused. This is not only ridiculous, but also insulting. The real issue here is not wanting to recognize their reality, but rather the very strict way identity terms are applied in the United States. In this case, the issue isn’t the individual but rather the system and/or certain aspects of the culture that is rooted on a widespread lie and on a type of discrimination towards mixed race individuals by attempting to invisibilize them.
A Mixture Society: The Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic evolved from the Spanish Empire. In fact, it was the first Spanish colony in the Western Hemisphere and most of the Spanish conquistadors that claimed different parts of the Americas for Spain departed on their conquering quest from Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. It’s where Europeans have been the longest in the Western Hemisphere in addition to Africans. It’s the first place to see the emergence of mestizos, mulattoes and other mixes. It’s the place in the Western Hemisphere where Spanish, a European language, has been spoken the longest. The over 300 years that the Dominican Republic was a part of Spain is still longer than the 178 years as an independent country, the 22 years under Haitian occupation, the over 10 years of United States administration, the 7 years of French rule and all other epochs when the Dominicans were ruled by people other than the Dominicans themselves. The bulk of the population has considerable Spanish ancestry in its veins, many trafitions and aspects of Dominican culture have their origin in Spain, Spanish is the mother tongue of practically all Dominicans. In short, the imprints of Spain are strong, everywhere and in everything in the Dominican Republic.
Along with a very strong Spanish influence comes Spanish ways of categorizations and premises. Everywhere the Spanish settled in any part of the world they implemented the belief that racial mixing wasn’t a sin or bad. As a consequence, rather than encouraging (or forcing) large quantities of Spanish women to settle its colonies, the Spanish government prefered that Spanish men would accept local women and have children and a family with them. This didn’t matter if these women were Europeans from other cultures or if they were Amerindians, Africans or any other types or mixes. From the very start terms such as white, black, etc tended to be strictly descriptive of skin colors with no further implications. This strictly descriptive aspect meant that people with light enough skin colors to be within the white ranges were called white, even if they were of mixed race. In the same manner were applied the other terms such as black or anything else.
This greatly contrasted with the social system applied in North America by the British. The areas settled by the British these terms implied not just skin color but also racial categories and, as is still the case in the United States, had implications of what was appropiate in acting and the usage of particular words that could be insulting depending if it was said by someone considered white or black. In the areas settled by the Spanish there was never any implications or limits regarding acting a certain way or not allowed to say a certain word depending on who said it.
This tradition imposed by the Spanish continues to be applied in the Dominican Republic. With that said, while strictly descriptive in the same way someone is described as tall or short, skinny or fat, good looking or ugly, etc; sometimes these terms would also apply in certain social hierchies. Particularly it was preferable to be white and the preference went down as one gets closer to black, with recognizing each skin color and mixture along the way instead of blanketing vsrious groups of people by, in this case, calling them black even if they were mixed.
Racial vs Descriptive
The dychotomy between the racial and the descriptive usage of identity terms means that mixing the two coukd create misunderstandings. For example, if a person is born in the United States, lived their entire lives in the United States and his vision of how the world works is American without being aware (or not caring) how things are in other countries; that person is bound to commit an error of judgement when describing other countries. In terms of identity terms, this person could have a hard time in understanding how is it that in countries like the Dominican Republic the term white often is applied to anyone of particular very light skin shades whereas in the United States many of these people wouldn’t be considered white. Even worse is if this person not recognizing the difference between one country and the other assumes that anyone referred to as white in the Dominican Republic means the same as being referred to as white in the United States. Race as a concept as it exist in the United States simply doesn’t exist in the Dominican Republic. These differences are like mixing oil with water, its not going to happen regardless how many times you try.
Yet, the Dominican way of doing things regarding identity is more common than the way is done in the United States. Concepts such as the “one-drop-rule” or considering mixed race individuals as black are not just non-existent in other countries, but they are seen as weird. For them, calling a mixed race individual as black is seen as an intentional lie thst is held snd repeated by American society.
Judging a Latin American Society Through a USA Prism
The Dominican Republic is often judged by Americans through a US prism. As a result, the country is often unfairly seen in ways that aren’t accurate to its nature. The reason it is seen through a US prism is mostly because that’s the only way Americans are used to seeing things and often think that is the only way. Many are shocked to learn that not only are there other ways, but the US prism is mostly confined to the USA which comprises around 5% of humanity. A country must be looked at from its own perspectives. Those are the ones at work in that place and not the perspectives of other places. An accurate portrayal of a country starts with an accurate underlyining in the analysis. In this case, a person can’t assume that identity labels used in the Dominican Republic have the same meanings as similar ones in the United States.
Why The Constant Attacks on Dominican Identity Comes from The USA and Nowhere Else?
This brings to the forefront a phenomenon that becomes apparent which is that the constant attacks and questioning of Dominican identity comes almost exclusively from the United States. This is interesting because the United States isn’t the only country in the world with a large population of African descendants in part or fully. In fact, the Dominican Republic is in the middke of the Caribbean surrounded by many of the blackest countries outside of Africa. All these countries also have a mixed race element, but where the differences appear with the Dominican Republic is that they are a small minority whereas in the Dominican Republic the mixed race element is the absolute majority. So why the entire questioning of Dominican identity is mostly done in English and by groups from the United States, including some African American groups?
This could be from the American tendency of wanting to make the world more line the United States or “Manifest Destiny.” Today this is seen in several ways including loans and aid the US government gives to various countries with conditions that often have nothing to do with economics. By contrast, the Chinese government is known to also offer loans and aid with no conditionality. For them business is simply business. The late leader of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew made reference to this tendency in an interview in Charlie Rose on March 28, 2011.
This difference between how Americans interfere in other countries with a zeal to change things and makevthem more like the United States is a foundamental difference with how the rest of the world goes about this. It could also explain why almost all the questioning and challenges towards Dominican identity comes almost entirely from the United States and from some Americans and no one else.
In addition, a new question arises regarding why do some Americans object to certain things such as mixed race Dominicans claiming to be mixed when they show no interest what-so-ever to mixed race Jamaicans or mixed race Haitians or other mixed race Caribbean people claiming their mixed race reality? Furthermore, pretty much everywhere in the Caribbean mixed race people are seen with their own labels and are no grouped together under a generic term of blacks. Do certain Americans have an aversion to mixed race Dominicans?
Does Having A Mixed Race Identity Implies Anti-Blackness?
This question regards more societies like the United States than the Dominican Republic. The reality is that the African American group has been composed by blacks and mixed race individuals. Having mixed race people identify on society their mixed race doesn’t mean thst they want to stop being African Americans or that they suffer from a sort of self-hate (how can you hate yourself by wanting to recognize your mixed race reality?) or that they want or are implying some sort of anti-blackness. There is nothing wrong in claiming to be mixed race if that is what you are and continue to support African Americans if you like. This is more about being true to yourself snd having society stop lying and respect you enough to recognize your reality. One thing remains constant through the centuries and that is that you don’t choose if you want to be white, black mixed or whatever. You are simply born a certain way and learn to live with it, but a person must be true to themselves. Calling a mixed race person as black, especialky when it’s obvious they are mixed, is a major lack of respect to them as who they are and their heritages.