The Global African: Extreme Xenophobia in the Dominican Republic

The Global African takes a look at the prejudice currently in the Dominican Republic, the history of segregation in public spaces, and a special comment on the Charleston shooting.

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BILL FLETCHER, HOST, THE GLOBAL AFRICAN: Today on The Global African, we’re going to look at the situation in the Dominican Republic with the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Haitians, we’re going to explore the history of segregation in recreational spaces in the United States, and feature a special commentary on a shooting in a historic black church in Charleston, once home to freedom fighter Denmark Vesey.

That’s all today on The Global African. I’m your host, Bill Fletcher. Thanks for joining us. And don’t go anywhere.

~~~

FLETCHER: Seventy-eight years ago, somewhere between twenty and forty thousand Haitians were murdered in the Dominican Republic under the orders of Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo. This bloody purge that occurred over a span of five days is referred to as the Parsley Massacre, and it is something that still haunts the Haitian-Dominican relations, even to this day.

In 2013, a Dominican constitutional court moved to deny citizenship to anyone born after 1929 who does not have at least one parent of Dominican blood. Today it appears that the move is going forward. Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Dominican Republic are facing a deadline to apply for legal status, and the majority of them are Haitians. While Dominican leaders are promising that each case will be held individually and fairly, advocates are still concerned it appears that the mechanism to identify possible deportees will be based off of physical appearance, specifically dark-skinned individuals.

So the question arises: why are these mass deportations being ordered? What is history’s role in all of this? This is what we will be exploring in this segment of The Global African.

We’re now joined by three guests. And we have Ezili Danto. She is an award-winning playwright, a performance poet, a political and social commentator, an author, and a well-known human rights attorney. Being from Haiti, she is a catalyst for Haitian activism and human rights.

Also joining us is Dr. Msomi Moor, who teaches at the University of the District of Columbia. He is a Howard University-educated scholar of the African Diaspora, and he has been researching black history or teaching in North American and South American historically black colleges and universities for over two decades.

Last, but not least, we have James Early. James is an African Caribbean and Latin American histories scholar and member of the board of the Institute for Policy Studies.

Thank you all very much for joining us on The Global African.

JAMES EARLY: Thank you.

DR. MSOMI MOOR: Thank you.

EZILI DANTO: Thank you.

FLETCHER: I want to start in looking at the situation in the Dominican Republic by trying to contextualize it historically. And, Dr. Moor, I actually want to start with you. In terms of understanding white supremacy and race as a whole in the Dominican Republic, what is it that we need to understand about Dominican history in order to understand what we’re seeing now?

MOOR: So the Dominican Republic is a fascinating example of how the castas system worked in the Iberian countries. It’s early. It’s the earliest. And so blacks who were subjected to that castas system–that whole status and privilege based on skin complexion, heritage, is at its most profound, many would say, in the Dominican Republic. It’s definitely at its most intense earlier on.

And if you look at the different levels of mixtures, some of them, they’re not permitted to go to school with whites. They have different punishments for touching whites as opposed to touching those who are two or three grades down in the mixtures. And you see it in the religion. You see it in the civil society. And you even see it just in general amongst all Dominicans at that time, if you want to call it a Dominican society.

So 17th century and 16th century Dominican history is replete with the leveling off of different complexions, colors. And I think one of the most recognizable in the Dominican Republic features of this system is that good hair, bad hair situation. That’s actually a casta, and it’s called /grifo/, okay? /grifo/ means that you are an offspring of some type of African with a native, as it were. And if your hair is a little bit more tightly curled, then you’ll be given this casta name, /grifo/.

And so, from early on you can see just the intensity of the castas system being meted out on the black population and native population of the DR. And it just continues on.

FLETCHER: Ezili, so how did that translate into the contradictions between the DR and Haiti?

DANTO: Haiti was the first nation in the Western Hemisphere to gain its independence, the only enslaved population to get rid of their masters and create an independent country. Haiti is the country that after, let’s say, almost 1,200 years of Arab conquest in the African continent and 300 years of slavery, we became free. And we were the first Africans to go back in so many ways to the African native authentic spirituality, language. And there’s things that we say at the Haitian Lawyers Leadership, because our education is being Europeanized or whitened so that folks don’t recognize themselves in Haitian history. But essentially the three notable ideals of Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Haiti’s founder, that we’re always teaching at the Haitian Lawyers Leadership is this, and it’s in contradiction to the whitening of Latin America after the abolishment of slavery in Haiti: we are a country that says all Haitians, no matter what African tribes they came from, and even those who–those Europeans who fought on the side of the liberators of Haiti, all shall be known by the appellation black.

The other important thing to remember about Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Haiti’s founding father, is that he was the first to take back the name of the indigenous island and say it’s going to be the island of Haiti, not Hispaniola. We are the liberators of this island. And so Haiti is the name that we’ve taken, we Africans, the Africans who are descendents of the amalgamated tribes that came to Haiti.

FLETCHER: James, the politics of this, the Dominican Republic is not known for having had progressive political leadership over the years. And so what’s the politics of this?

EARLY: Many people of our complexion who obviously are descendents of enslaved Africans in this part of the world and the Dominican Republic [incompr.] I’m not black; I’m Indian. So this gets to the politics of pigmentocracy and the ideological factor of distancing oneself, which still goes on in the contemporary era.

The other issue with regard to the historical evolution of politics is Haiti being the first republic of enslaved people to break away in 1804. In 1805, Dessalines goes into the Dominican Republic to break slavery, to break the organizational form of white supremacy, takes land from Euro Latins who were the underpinning of this. So the hatred of these people for their moral perspectives about democracy and the fact that they came from the underclass based on their skin color goes very, very deep.

The politics fundamentally, though, have to go beyond the issue of citizenship. Haitians have been exported to the Dominican Republic for the sugar industry, which the United States is implicated in, starting in the 20th century, 1915, 1914, and bringing Trujillo, the massacre of 1937, the cultural question, when dark-skinned people, if they could not pronounce the world perejilparsley–because they couldn’t roll the r, then they were subject to being massacred. Some people think up to 10,000 people may have been killed during that moment.

So even if they were to get citizenship, they’re impoverished. You’ve got Martelly, the president of Haiti, saying, we will welcome our sons and our daughters back. Back to what? To Bill Clinton’s plantation. This is very important for U.S. citizens to recall, that the earthquake industry, the so-called reparation industry, is run by Bill Clinton. Obama has turned that over to him. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. So people are going to be fleeing for economic reasons the same way that people are coming out of South America into Mexico, Mexico now deporting more people than any place in the hemisphere, 90,000 between February and April going back to the South of Mexico. These are economic flights. And so Haiti is caught up both in the issue of having to survive economically, everyday Haitians, as well as the question of deep-seated racism and a whitening of Haiti.

FLETCHER: Since that seems to be a major point of reference for reactionaries within the Dominican Republic, why did that fail? Why did the liberation of the D.R. fail?

MOOR: I think what needs to be highlighted in this whole sequence of current events in the DR related to your question is the precedent of pigmentocracy is a great way to say–you know, Brother Early said it. Think about this. If you were darker in the Dominican Republic in the 17th and 16th centuries, you weren’t even allowed to go to school. They put you on a field. And I’m talking about if your son, if you are–I’m going to go through some casta terms here–if you are mulato, your son would have been a terceron. Your grandson would’ve been considered a cuarteron. Okay, we’re going by generations here. So the cuarteron and the terceron would have had all types of privileges that their father and grandfather would not have had.

In addition to that, if anyone came from somewhere else–you mentioned the individuals who came for sugarcane cultivation. That’s where the whole phenomenon of cocolo comes from in the Dominican Republic is because they were English-speaking blacks who came in and were darker-skinned than the perceived notion of what the people who called themselves indios were. And so they were then relegated to an inferior citizenship in the D.R.

And so what was at play was this European ideal that we don’t want to be black anyways. We want to raise up the pigmentocracy, the castas system. We’re semi-autonomous. We have a much free lifestyle than what they have over there, much more free. And then, in addition to that, you had the multiple incursions of Haitians that were coming over. It wasn’t just in 1805. You know, Boyer came over in 1822. And so there’s several incursions from Haiti into the D.R. So you have this kind of lurking Haitian menace over here. You have a tempting, intense desire to be European. And then you have this centuries-old system of privileges that says if you’re lighter or more European, even acting, then you’ll be better off in society.

EARLY: And white privilege, I mean, we have to recall that the economic system that is set up in the Western Hemisphere is set up by European capital and black enslaved labor. So this is–the rationalization of skin color discrimination has to do with superexploitation of material gain. And then the cultural point takes on a life of its own. I am better than you even if I am poorer than you or even if I’m less educated than you.

So until we get at the economic situation tied to the formality of the rights and obligations of citizens, we will have a [hollow ground (?)], and where even if a great number of those Dominicans are able to register–and that is a most outstanding question, given that bureaucracy and given the deceitfulness that’s going on, as our sister described, about the registration process, it is still going to be the most vulnerable national population in our hemisphere in terms of where black people are dominant in numbers, which is Haiti and its cultural tie to the Dominican Republic.

FLETCHER: Thank you all very, very much. A very, very, as they say, rich conversation. So thank you all. Ezili, Dr. Moor, James, thank you very much for joining us for The Global African.

EARLY: Thank all of us–

MOOR: Pleasure.

EARLY: –and you.

FLETCHER: Alright.

And thank you for joining us for this segment of The Global African. I’m your host, Bill Fletcher. And we’ll be back.

~~~

On June 5, 2015, police officers in McKinney, Texas, responded to a call from residents about alleged trespassing at a nearby private pool. The pool was located in Craig Ranch, an upper middle class community outside of Dallas. Chaos ensued once the officers arrived to the scene.

And this was all captured on video, particularly the actions of officer Eric Casebolt. Even before properly assessing the situation, Casebolt immediately began throwing black teenagers to the ground, pulling out his weapon, and pointing it at frightened black youth, and sticking his knee into the back of a 15-year-old girl with her face down in the ground. In the video it became clear Casebolt was only targeting the black teenagers. As one white teenager at the scene would later say about the police officer’s action, quote, it was kind of like I was invisible, unquote. The video went viral, and much of the discussion turned towards Casebolt’s actions and the violent nature of the police toward African Americans.

What didn’t get discussed too much, however, were concepts of equity and access. After all, the story begins with the notion that certain kinds of folk ought to be denied access to recreational spaces. Historical segregation was an important part of both state and national policy here in the United States, particularly in recreational spaces like public swimming pools. As public swimming pools became outdated, the rise of private club house pools was to follow, and they afforded access to largely one demographic, upper middle class whites.

Does this story of public-private access represent a continuum of historical U.S. policy? That is what we will explore next.

We’re joined by Crystal Sanders, Dr. Crystal Sanders. Dr. Sanders is an assistant professor of history and African American studies at Penn State University. She is a 20th century historian that has a particular interest in the African-American freedom struggle in the southern part of the United States.

Welcome to The Global African.

DR. CRYSTAL SANDERS: Thank you for having me.

FLETCHER: I wondered in the hearing about the work that you’ve done and a piece that you wrote on African-American access to water recreation if you could actually help us understand what happened in McKinney, Texas. What was this all about over a swimming pool?

SANDERS: I believe that in order to put the McKinney, Texas, incident in the proper context, we must look at the long history of African-American access–or, rather, exclusion–from water recreation.

Typically when we think of Jim Crow segregation, people will talk about segregated water fountains, segregated schools, African Americans sitting at the back of city buses. But we tend to forget that also places of public leisure were typically closed off to African Americans. Places of public leisure included beaches, they included amusement parks, they included swimming pools.

Segregationists in particular were very concerned about African-American access to water recreation because of their fears of racial miscegenation. This idea of trying to prevent black men from having interactions with white women severely limited black access to the water. So, typically throughout most of the 20th century, black access to swimming pools was either nonexistent, severely limited, or they were relegated to substandard water facilities, like swamps or something, if they didn’t have sections of cities set aside for their use.

Now, things began to change in 1955 when the United States Supreme Court outlawed racial segregation in public recreational facilities. And what this meant is that cities and towns had to make sure that their swimming facilities, whether these were swimming pools or whether these were beaches, were open to all without regard to race.

Now, remember, there was still this real fear of racial miscegenation. So the question was: how were city officials going to maintain swimming pools for white citizens while also not running afoul of the law? And typically one of two things happened. In some places, public officials simply sold their swimming pools to private organizations, who could then control who had access to them. So, in Marshall, Texas, to get around the law, officials sold the swimming pool to the local Lions Club, and the Lions Club could then, as a private entity, decide who had access to those facilities.

The other thing that happened was that many municipalities simply closed their swimming pools for good. They simply did not offer swimming facilities for black or white citizens. That’s what happened in Monroe, North Carolina, outside of Charlotte.

Now, you may be asking, if several towns and cities closed their swimming pools because of the fear of racial integration, how did white people have access to swimming? I should tell you that whites did not abandon swimming in the face of these new laws that required integrated swimming facilities. Simply what happened is that they built private pools in neighborhoods like the one in McKinney, Texas. These private pools, which were owned by homeowners associations–it gave a way for white officials to control who enjoyed those facilities.

FLETCHER: You know, I grew up in the Bronx, in New York, and very close to the East River in the eastern part of the Bronx, and at the end of my block was this very large beach club. It was called the Castle Hill Beach Club. And for years it was completely segregated. There were no black people, no Puerto Ricans, to my knowledge, that were permitted there. And it was amazing, because it was right on–it was bordering a black and Puerto Rican community.

SANDERS: Most definitely. If you recall, when Martin Luther King Jr. writes the letter from a Birmingham Jail in 1963, he writes that as a parent it pained him to have to tell his six-year-old daughter that she could not attend the Funtown amusement park in Atlanta, Georgia, because the amusement park was closed to children who looked like her. There are generations of African Americans who’ve grown up having their access to recreational facilities restricted, and there are generations of white Americans who have no recollection of this exclusion, of this history of exclusion.

FLETCHER: So one of the things that I’m sort of confused by is that these may be private institutions, but they have access to various public resources. How is it that they can in effect exclude people of color? Is it just done surreptitiously?

SANDERS: It is, it is done surreptitiously, because any recreational facility that receives public funds has a legal responsibility to make those facilities open to all without regard to race.

Now, in particular, this swimming pool at the heart of the–or at the center of the controversy in McKinney, Texas, is not a public facility. It was owned by the neighborhood. That has been one way that people have been able to get around making swimming pools available to all citizens without regard to race. If those pools are owned by private organizations, if they’re owned by private homeowners associations, then those entities have the right to control who can make use of those resources.

Now, what’s at stake in McKinney was the fact that these teenagers believed they were invited to the party. They were guests of a resident. So they’re saying they were not there trespassing, they were not someplace where they were not supposed to be.

FLETCHER: Understood. Welcome to the United States of America, as they say.

Well, listen, Dr. Sanders, thank you very, very much for this, your insight and historical background, and we really appreciate you taking this time with us on The Global African.

SANDERS: Thank you. It was my pleasure to speak with you today.

FLETCHER: And thank you for joining us for this segment of The Global African. I’m your host, Bill Fletcher. We’ll be back in a moment.

~~~

FLETCHER: I’m supposed to be preparing to celebrate my birthday. But it’s impossible for me to have any degree of excitement, it’s very difficult for me to joke in the aftermath of the atrocity that took place in Charleston, South Carolina.

It’s not just the killings. It’s the way that this has been spun in the mainstream media. It’s the obsession with the focusing on psychoanalyzing the alleged perpetrator of the killings, this white terrorist.

And there’s history to this. Each time there’s an action, a terrorist action committed by white right wingers, there’s an effort in the media and in other areas to try to explain it away, to psychoanalyze, to talk about the childhood or the difficulty or this person was a malcontent.

But this is never, never demonstrated when an alleged perpetrator of terrorism is someone of color or is a Muslim. If someone is a Muslim or if someone is of color and they carry out an act of terror, there is no effort to psychoanalyze them. No one spent any time trying to figure out Mohamed Atta’s psychology. No one spent any time on what his childhood was like, what his parents were like. No one spent any time on whether or not he was a loner and didn’t receive the proper training when he was young.

It is when we have these white perpetrators of terror that there’s an effort set loose in order to try to change the discussion. And we, you listening to this program, cannot permit that to happen. It’s time for you to speak up. Thank you.

End

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