Afrolatinidad and the Benefits of Combatting Anti-Blackness
Written By: Christopher Viñales
¿Afrolatinidad? Pero, ¿y que es eso?
Afro Latino, Afro Latin@, Afro Latinx: At this point reader, I am almost certain that you have heard of these terms. But, just in case you haven’t, allow me to briefly explain. These terms and similar ones have been collectively used by many latinxs (the “x” is used as a gender inclusive/non-binary alternative spelling of “Latinos”) of African descent in and out of Latin America. The terms themselves are used as identity markers to recognize, acknowledge and celebrate the experience of Latin Americans of African descent. Afrodescendientes, (Latin Americans/ Latinxs of African descent) are found in every single country in Latin America and in the Caribbean. As we know, the institution of slavery stole millions of Africans of various ethnic origins and forcibly made them work for free to build up the “new world.” It has been proven time and time again that African people were enslaved in Latin America, and yet many folks seem to have a hard time understanding the implications that that has on today’s culture. The Africans and their children did not just disappear. Many of us are their children. Many of us are their descendants.
¿Y nosotros los Dominicanxs, somos “afro-latinxs” tambien?
The Dominican Republic is home to one of the largest percentage of people of African descent in this hemisphere. Simply put, there are many, MANY afrodescendientes in the Dominican Republic. The prevalence of African heritage in the Dominican Republic continues to be debated. Studies after studies show that there indeed is a large majority of African heritage in both our cultural and genetic background[i]. Mi gente, THIS IS AN AMAZING THING. Most of us have at least a little bit of African blood, and many of us have a lot of it. It’s such a beautiful thing! Unfortunately, due to a lot of miseducation, corrupt governments, internalized and worldwide institutionalized forms of white-supremacy and racism, we have been taught to do as much as we can to ignore our roots as afrodecendientes. We have been taught to detest all of what connects us with African heritage, and to emphasize our European and Taíno roots. While there is nothing wrong with embracing all of the racial and ethnic diversity within the Dominican diaspora, we have to continue the discussion of Anti-Blackness. While many of us are aware of this supposed tri-racial background that makes Dominicans, Dominican, many have been taught to erase the importance of African Heritage. This exists to the point where there are folks who cannot believe that people like Amara La Negra (see image) is of African Descent. I’m serious; someone seriously threatened me for saying that Amara La Negra was of African descent… Hence, we need to have a serious talk about education, anti-blackness and black-erasure.
It’s hard to work on improving a nation, when the nation has very little understanding of who they are. This has got to change. It is well documented that so much of our culture has African influences. The way we worship, the way we speak (some words, accents, figures of speech, tonal inflections etc.,) the foods we eat and the way we dance are all influenced by the many African cultures that have been brought over to the Dominican Republic[ii]. For example, the drum patterns of Musica De Palos, (also known as atabales) that many of us remember dancing to with so much enthusiasm as kids, are west African in origin, and comes from the religious traditions of the 21 divisions from the Fon/Dahomey region. African heritage is evident in many so many facets of Dominican life, that even Dominicans who have no African heritage by ancestral lineage have been enriched by Afro-Dominican culture. But knowing all of this does not get rid of the fact that much of Dominican culture ignores, or devalues our obvious African roots. Throughout Dominican history, our racial and ethnic identities have always been at the heat of discussion. There have been many movements to try to eliminate the acknowledgement of our African background. Everything from racial mixing, to the introduction of European immigrants to the country for the sole purpose of Whitening the nation has been purposefully used to reduce African presence.
The benefits of combatting anti-blackness
Although we have been victims of institutionalized African erasure, it is up to us to reverse our anti-black sentiments. Unfortunately, we have been the laughing stock of the African Diaspora. Many look at us with great disdain because they misunderstand racial dynamics in the Dominican Republic. Although every country has the right to have its own concept of race (as race is socially constructed) it does not mean anti-blackness within Dominican culture should not be critiqued. It is true that anti-black/ Anti-African sentiment exists in every single part of the African Diaspora but we should be concerned with addressing our own. It never fails that whenever some new artist, writer, blogger, journalist or academic writes about African heritage in the Dominican Republic, ignorant people feel offended. I really want to ask those folks several questions. What is so bad with recognizing African heritage? Who taught you to hate those African cultural roots that are essential to being Dominican?
The benefits of combatting anti-African/anti-blackness in the Dominican Republic are plentiful. We would be able to look at ourselves and feel wonderful in our vast arrays of skin tones. Unfortunately, colorist and Eurocentric beauty standards are extremely high in the Dominican Republic. Just look at all the beauty pageants—only two women of visibly predominant afrodescent have been crowned as Miss Dominican Republic. But anti-blackness does not only express itself by way of beauty standards. It is also present in Dominican society in terms of economic and educational access. Colorism, a vestige of racism, makes it so that there is preferential treatment towards folks with lighter skin. Reversing anti-black rhetoric in the Dominican Republic is extremely vital to improving the nation. What better way to fulfill patriotic duty, than to fight against these racist power structures? It must be acknowledged that tackling anti-blackness and anti-African sentiment in the Dominican Republic and the Dominican Diaspora is not new, and I would like to thank all those who have participated in the struggle. Many of us go unnoticed and are often ridiculed for our work, but the struggle will continue.
[i] Torres-Saillant, Silvio. 2010. Introduction to Dominican Blackness. Dominican Studies Research Monograph Series. <http://www.ccny.cuny.edu/dsi/upload/Introduction_to_Dominican_Blackness_Web.pdf>
[ii] Andujar, Carlos. The African Presence in Santo Domingo. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State UP, 2012.Print.
Options for further reading:
Alarcon, Antonio V. Menendez, and David Howard. “Coloring the Nation: Race and Ethnicity in the Dominican Republic.” Contemporary Sociology: 676. Print.
Greene, Brenda M. The African Presence and Influence on the Cultures of the Americas. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars, 2010. Print.
Howard, David John. Coloring the Nation: Race and Ethnicity in the Dominican Republic. Oxford, U.K.:Signal ;, 2001. Print.
Roman, Miriam Jimenez & Flores, Juan (Eds.). 2010. The Afro-Latin@ Reader: History and Culture in the United States. Trinity, North Carolina: Duke University Press Books.
Sags, Ernesto. Race and Politics in the Dominican Republic. Gainesville: U of Florida, 2000. Print.
Christopher Viñales is a 23 year-old Domini-Rican blogger and aspiring anthropologist from the Bronx, New York City. He is currently receiving his Masters in Liberal Studies with a concentration in Latin American and Caribbean Studies from the Graduate Center at CUNY. His interests include participating in conversations about race, gender and sexuality. His particular research interests are anthropological frameworks for Afro-Latin American religious communities. Christopher intends on continuing his studies to become a professor and to do work for queer Afro-Latin American youth.