It appears as though Haitian people may finally be welcomed into the U.S. In January, the Biden Administration announced its newest sponsorship program which would usher in 30,000 immigrants a month from four different countries: Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Haiti. Applicants who qualify for this program must undergo background checks. Once they have a sponsor, they are then able to temporarily live and work in the U.S.
Previously, the Biden Administration has received criticism for its treatment and deportation of Haitian asylum seekers arriving on the Del Rio border, which is located in Texas, in late 2021. The deportation of Haitian people under Title 42, a critical health law that was created by the Trump Administration, prohibits asylum seekers from having due process. However, the U.S. is now providing opportunities for Haitians to come to America and not be turned away.
However, Haiti’s neighboring country–the Dominican Republic–refuses to do the same. This stems from systematic mistreatment rooted in race and identity. Quite frankly: the different shades of brown matter once you’re crossing into the Dominican Republic. Colorism is usually considered a concept that is unique to America. Because of it, lighter-skinned Black people are treated better than darker-skinned Black people by our white counterparts and our own community.
Colorism has been a tool that divides Black people for centuries. But just like in the U.S., it’s alive in other countries as well. Over the past year, more than 31,000 Haitians have been expelled back to Haiti under the current Dominican Republic president, Luis Abinader. In addition, many Haitians who are born in the Dominican Republic to Haitian parents are being denied citizenship. Even Black Dominicans who are born to Dominican parents are being arrested and deported as well. Is this all happening to the Haitian people because of the color of their skin?
I am familiar with colorism because I am of Haitian descent. It would be a disservice for me not to mention the horrific history of racism that the Haitian people had to endure in the Dominican Republic. Haitian people are dealing with systems that promote anti-Black and anti-Haitian sentiment in this country, even after we helped the Dominican Republic fight for their independence from Spain in 1865. The Dominican Republic population is racially mixed with African and European descendants, who dominate most of the country’s population at nearly 73 percent; Sixteen percent are White and 11 percent are Black.
More than 700,000 Dominicans are of Haitian descent. Haitians being mistreated in the Dominican Republic is history repeating itself. During the course of dictator Rafael Trujillo’s rule (1930-1961), he publicly promoted anti-Haitian sentiments even though he had Haitian ancestry. Trujillo feared that the Haitian people would be the cause of “darkening” the race of the Dominican people. His objective was to “whiten” the race. In October 1937, Trujillo ordered and killed an estimated 20,000 Haitians including: Dominicans who were of Haitian descent, mixed Haitian and Dominican families and Black Dominicans. Many of the Haitian people were killed on the river that separates Haiti and Dominican Republic, which is known as Massacre River.
Trujillo, who used makeup to appear lighter in photos, was not the first in Dominican Republic history to negate their Blackness and African or Haitian ancestry. In the documentary Black in Latin America with Henry Louis Gates Jr., there are monuments of great Dominican leaders constructed with European features. However, in photographs, some of the leaders really had African features.
When a country has a long history of indoctrinating the ideology of beauty and social acceptance associated with white and lighter skin, this instills to its people that anything associated with Blackness or being dark-skinned is shameful and should be denied. Evidently, the effect of colorism leads darker skin people to feel undervalued because of their skin color, which can lead to skin bleaching; an example of which being former professional baseball player Sammy Sosa.
Sosa, a Dominican-American, bleaches his skin but says it isn’t self-hate. He insists on being a proud Dominican despite all evidence to the contrary. Sadly, the global market for skin bleaching is a billion-dollar industry. Dominicans rejecting their Blackness has been ingrained in the country’s history and into their people where dark-skinned/non-white Dominicans will often say: “I am not Black, I am Dominican” when explaining their identity.
Even young Latinas are taught to marry white or light-skinned men. Like the Dominican Republic, America has a population of mixed-race Black folks, a long history of racism and colorism. The origins of colorism in the U.S. can be traced to slavery when slave owners raped their women slaves, which producing light-skinned children who were referred to as “mulatto.”
Light-skinned slaves were deemed as “house negros” and often resided in the house of the slave owner and were given better clothing, food, and living conditions. The “field negro,” who were dark-skinned, had grueling labor on the plantation field from sunup to sundown, wore poor clothing, and had awful living conditions. The drastic difference in treatment of slaves from their slave owners was based on how light or dark their skin was. Being a light-skinned slave came with privileges that dark-skinned slaves did not have.
The message that American culture tells us is that if you’re a light-skinned Black person you are seen as more desirable than dark-skinned people. In addition, light-skinned people are presented with more opportunities. In the 1950s, there were job advertisements for chauffeurs and waitresses specifically requesting for applicants to be “light colored’’ as part of their qualifications. Even today, many Latinos know that skin color impacts their opportunities in America.
Telemundo and Univision, both leading Spanish-language broadcast stations in the United States, have shown lack of diversity with the lack of dark-skinned Black reporters. In 2017, Univision finally had their first Afro-Latina reporter, Ilia Calderón. In 2020, Telemundo and Univision received criticism for racism and anti-Blackness for their lack of coverage during the protests of George Floyd and other protests regarding police brutality against unarmed Black men and women.
The anti-Haitian sentiment from the Dominican people is deeply rooted in race and identity, but also reveals the anti-Blackness and colorism that they have against Black Dominicans. Overall, there needs to be more discussions on how we can tackle anti-Blackness and colorism in the Latino community.
Natasha Lucas is a freelancer based in NYC