Experiential Blackness: Race, Identity, and Memory in Contemporary Dominican Society
Race , Memory , Dominican Republic , Haiti , Blackness , Identity , Dominicanidad
The controversial subject of blackness resides at the center of discussions of race in the Dominican Republic. Traditionally, scholars have painted the Dominican Republic as a society ignorant of its own history of blackness and devoid of a black consciousness. They argue that Dominicans deny their African ancestry because of their hatred toward their African descent Haitian neighbours, even though the two island nations share the same land mass, traditionally known as Hispaniola. In this thesis, I argue that despite blackness being pushed to the margins of official or State conceptions of dominicanidad (Dominicanness or Dominican identity), blackness is integral to the shaping of history, collective and individual memories, and identity on the island. My work focuses on experiential blackness to highlight the complexity of blackness in Dominican culture. Experiential blackness is a methodology that shows how individuals, despite racial classification, understand and relate to blackness in the past and in the present. A consideration of the unique and traumatic histories of the Trujillo dictatorship (1930-1961) and the authoritarian rule of Joaquín Balaguer (1966-1978) in the Dominican Republic, reveals the ways anti-blackness and anti-Haitian rhetoric have informed Dominican conceptions of race, memory, and identity to this day. At the same time, Black Dominican voices, throughout history, have attempted to amplify and record their experiences to quell traditional state practices of silencing, denigration, and erasure. I utilize a mix of traditional archival sources and non-traditional sources, including oral history and social media, to analyze how the past and the present are constantly informing and shaping one another. The purpose of this thesis is not only to center blackness and highlight its profound influence on the culture of the Dominican Republic but to demonstrate how the recentring of discussions of blackness can lead to radical change in any given society.