Thoughts on Part One of ‘Black in Latin America: Haiti & the DR’

Dr. Henry Louis Gates, star professor of African-American studies at Harvard University, has just completed a four-part documentary on the African diaspora in Latin America – titled ‘Black in Latin America – that’s currently airing on PBS (last episode, tomorrow night). He’s visited Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Mexico and Peru to shed light on the past and present of blacks (and browns) in these countries; a past and present often as little known to people in the USA as to people in those particular countries.

I’m always a little ambivalent about the good Prof. Gates (I saw the whole ‘blacks participated in the slave trade too’ as a bit of pandering to assuage white guilt, as if Africans selling Africans had any bearing on the institution of slavery and the treatment of slaves in the United States; and the whole DNA testing thing makes little sense, since both race and racism are essentially based on phenotype – skin-tone, hair texture, facial features and other surface-level traits – and not how many African genomes you possess), but I decided to look at the documentary with the faith that at least the Prof’s I’s would be dotted and T’s crossed.

Before offering my ‘take’ on the program, let me establish some credentials: Aside from having an intense interest in Latin American culture from an early age, my major in undergrad was political science with a minor in Spanish. I completed my last semester as a study abroad student in the Dominican Republic, where I lived with a Dominican family and studied Afro-Dominican history and culture under the late, great Prof. Blas Jiménez, poet and ex-director of UNESCO (the cultural arm of the United Nations) in Santo Domingo. A serious advocate of negritude in the Dominican Republic, Blas took us on tours of Santería temples and sugar plantations, and exposed us to the obvious and pervasive African element of Dominican culture, backed up by reams of scholarly literature on the topic, including work by Prof. Frank Moya Pons, who also appears in Gates’ documentary. I’ve visited Cuba three times, lived four years in Colombia, and now one year in Brazil. And as a culturally- and politically-black American with a mixed-race phenotype, I’ve had to navigate the minefield of race and identity constantly since leaving the United States six years ago (see my post ‘Black Like Me‘ for more on that foolishness). Basically, yo, I am ‘Black in Latin America.’

So, looking at the first episode of the series, I have to say that I appreciate the fact that Gates is even exploring the topic. Often, ‘blackness’ and ‘Latinness’ are seen as exclusive entities when they’re not: as we all should know by now, there’s more than one way to be black (just as Icelanders and Greeks, Finns and the Portuguese are all considered ‘white’). While I felt like the DR unfortunately got short-shrift, the Haiti portion was intensely enlightening, as I’ve only read about some of the history and hadn’t seen many images of the people and the places from Haiti’s past. Love the constant big-ups to 1804, when black Haitians beat back the French in order to be free men in a strange land, and how Gates explains the punishing debt Haiti had to pay to France, which essentially bankrupted the country forever, and US interference on both sides of the island.

From a historical standpoint, I can’t qualm with much of the presentation. But, as subjective documentaries sometimes do, the viewer is led to generalizing: not all Dominicans are anti-African/anti-black/anti-Haitian, in fact many, many do understand and accept their blackness (not most, but many) and not all Haitians practice Vodun and many, many Dominicans do (either Vudú, or the related faith, Santería). Gates doesn’t explain how Gen. Rafael Trujillo, US-backed dictator of the DR, actually changed the history books in schools to say that Dominicans are brown because of their ‘Taíno Indian’ ancestry and that more than a couple of generations of Dominican school children learned this as official history – on one hand, you can’t blame them for claiming ‘Indian’ over ‘black’; you’re messing with a fundamental educational matrix that these people were raised in. Trust me, opening people’s minds to new realities ain’t as simple as taking a blue or a red pill.

A few of my own pet peeves:

Gates’ horrible pronunciation of Spanish names and words that, even for English speakers, aren’t all that hard to pronounce. Trujillo is true-HEE-yo, and Gates is all true-EE-ho. Dude, did you even ask somebody how that shit should be pronounced? As an academic talking about non-English topics, you need to at least try and approach a reasonable facsimile. It’s not that hard. Inexcusable, inelegant.

Every time I heard the word mulatto – especially in Gates’ bass-less, Harvard-ese register – the hair on my neck stood up. Though it’s still used in Spanish and Portuguese, it’s a slave term in English (from same linguistic root as mule, the hybrid of a horse and donkey) and I would have much preferred ‘mixed’ or ‘mixed-race’, but that’s just me.

The music they played at the beginning of the segment was NOT merengue, it was Cuban son, a precursor to salsa. Get your rhythms right, my brother. On this particular point, it’s sloppy presentation, sloppy research, sloppy journalism, and just plain irresponsible. You’re supposed to be educating people – get it right.

Overall grade from this humble educator: B+

I’ll review episode two, Cuba, next week. What are your thoughts?

Watch the full episode. See more Black in Latin America.

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15 Responses to Thoughts on Part One of ‘Black in Latin America: Haiti & the DR’

  1. Stacy says:

    Excellent post!! I will def check this out 🙂

  2. Unamused says:

    I have two thoughts: one on slavery and white guilt, the other on race and genetics.

    I saw the whole ‘blacks participated in the slave trade too’ as a bit of pandering to assuage white guilt…

    I assume by “blacks participated in the slave trade too” you mean things like: (1) some black Americans had slaves too; (2) African blacks, not whites, captured the slaves that whites brought to America; (3) African blacks enslaved more whites than white Americans did blacks; and (4) when freed black slaves returned to Africa (to form Liberia), they promptly enslaved the native Africans.

    I don’t actually feel white guilt, but if I did, it would be assuaged right now.

    …and the whole DNA testing thing makes little sense, since both race and racism are essentially based on phenotype — skin-tone, hair texture, facial features and other surface-level traits — and not how many African genomes you possess

    Talking about DNA in a documentary about race makes a great deal of sense, because race is 100 percent genetic. It is a subject I discuss frequently, but I will list a few reasons here for convenience:

    An article in the American Journal of Human Genetics reports a 99.86 percent success rate in determining a person’s self-reported race (white, African-American, East Asian, or Hispanic) based solely on genetic clusters (i.e., patterns of DNA).
    Forensic anthropologists can determine a person’s race just from looking at his bones (CNN). (Dr. George Gill can explain it better than I can.) Thus the idea that “race is only skin deep” couldn’t be more wrong.
    Here is a plot of genetic variation among the races.
    Here is a genetic map of the world from famous geneticist Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza’s magnum opus, The History and Geography of Human Genes.

    In short, this is why black people have black children, who remain black no matter where they go, no matter how much non-black culture they absorb. (And the same goes for every other race.) This, in spite of the fact that there is no such thing as an “African genome.”

  3. I tried to watch this on the computer a couple of week ago, but my unreliable internet connection kept failing. I’ve heard so many views on this – some feel that it paints a real ugly and untrue picture of Dominicans, but I definitely want to see it for myself. As a Haitian who has witness Dominican racism, it can feel like the majority have a prejudice against blacks. For instance, one of the things Dominicans in Haiti (and in South Florida) are known for is their ability to straighten hair. This may seem innocent on the surface, but it goes back to looking as “white” or “non-black” as possible. The stories go on and on…

    Like you said, I’m just happy someone is trying to start a national conversation about this issue. It’s about time!

  4. Fly Brother says:

    Thanks, Stacy!

  5. Fly Brother says:

    Unamused: Thanks for commenting!

    First, let me preface my response to your comments with a quote from your blog, regarding a rash of violent flash mobs in Philadelphia:

    ‘Sociopathic black thugs are here, they have no fear, and we’d better find a way to deal with them. Quickly and permanently.’

    Would you be referring to increased access to quality education as one of the quick and permanent solutions you allude to?

    By flagging up that some black Americans owned slaves and Africans sold other Africans, you think that absolves white slave traders and slave owners from their responsibility in atrocities associated with the institution? Hardly. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

    You also mention, erroneously, that more black Africans enslaved whites than Americans did blacks, then linked the source material with this snippet: ‘Over the course of four centuries, the Atlantic slave trade was much larger – about 10 to 12 million black Africans were brought to the Americas. But from 1500 to 1650, when trans-Atlantic slaving was still in its infancy, more white Christian slaves were probably taken to Barbary than black African slaves to the Americas, according to Davis.’

    Barbary, as in the Mediterranean coast of Africa, is peopled mostly by mixed-race, Arabic-speaking Muslims (considered ‘Caucasian’, actually) that enslaved sub-Saharan blacks (i.e. ‘African blacks’…the ones brought over to this hemisphere, by the way) as well as Christian Europeans. The article also says the trans-Atlantic slave trade was much larger, EXCEPT in its infancy. So where, from that text, do you get more whites being enslaved by African blacks than the converse?

    ‘Hispanic’ is not a race; it is an ethnicity, as is ‘African-American.’
    Discrimination is and has always been based on phenotype, on how one looks. People hurling the ‘n’ word at Obama, despite knowing he has a white mother, couldn’t give a rat’s ass about his DNA make-up.

    Again, thanks for commenting.

  6. Fly Brother says:

    ‘This may seem innocent on the surface, but it goes back to looking as “white” or “non-black” as possible.’

    Sad, but very true. Thanks for commenting.

  7. NiaTrue says:

    Love this post! Astute reading of the series. Must say, I chuckled long and hard at the pronunciation bit. Kudos!

  8. Unamused says:

    Thanks for getting back to me.

    Quality education as a solution to the Philly mobs. In America, a quality education is available to anyone who (a) wants it, (b) has the natural ability, and (c) is willing to work for it. That is the law, and the success of Asian immigrants — fresh off the boat, dirt poor, can’t speak English — as a group, confirms it. Or look at black West Indian immigrants compared to the rioting ghetto black Americans of Philly.

    Sociopathic black thugs tend to lack all three of the characteristics I mentioned. My solution for these people — and we’re talking about sociopathic black thugs here — is the same as my solution to sociopathic thugs of all races: lock them up for as long as possible, or execute them. Unfortunately, this will have a disparate impact on black Americans, because, y’know, crime rates. (See last paragraph.)

    Are you asking me to believe that after-school programs and advanced placement classes are going to redeem ghetto black students? I’d like to see some evidence. In fact, this experiment was tried, in Kansas City. It was a disaster: even with unlimited funding and a court order to give blacks a quality education, test scores didn’t budge. HBD at work.

    The slave trade. Acknowledging black African and black American involvement in the slave trade isn’t supposed to absolve anyone of anything. It’s supposed to show that whites are not the “villains” and blacks the “victims,” an impression one might get from the way American history is currently being taught. It’s supposed to show that historically, everyone’s been a bunch of bastards. Now, should the Africans pay reparations to the Europeans?

    Regarding Africans enslaving whites: when I said “Americans,” I didn’t meant residents of the Americas (plural), including e.g. Brazil. I meant residents of what is now the United States of America. From Wikipedia:

    From the 16th to the 19th centuries, an estimated 12 million Africans were shipped as slaves to the Americas. (see Slavery in the Americas) Of these, an estimated 645,000 were brought to what is now the United States.

    That said, I see now that the Africans in question were mixed-race Muslims. So I retract the “black” in “black Africans.” They were mixed-race Africans.

    Hispanics. I have argued, at length, that Hispanics form a race. I base this on three things: (1) genes, (2) the way we actually use the term Hispanic, and (3) the absurdity of defining Hispanic in any other way.

    Phenotype.Discrimination is based on phenotype, yes. Phenotype is not, however, just “how one looks.” It’s any observable characteristic. Therefore your behavior is part of your phenotype. Behavior comes from the brain, which is built according to the plan encoded in your DNA. In short, human behavioral traits are heritable (the first law of behavior genetics). Race includes behavioral traits that come from genes that tag along with genes for skin color.

    For example, blacks score lower than whites on IQ tests, on average. This group difference creates a “disparate impact”: blacks underperform in school, and make less money (on average). Most people think this proves discrimination — “disparate treatment.” It does not, but you have to acknowledge that group differences in phenotype go deeper than skin color and hair texture to see that. Same goes for crime rates.

  9. Unamused says:

    Would you mind fixing the “” tag after “The slave trade”? You can delete this.

  10. kwerekwere says:

    i really know i shouldn’t feed trolls, but, eish. wth?

    it would appear we have someone who has been brainwashed by the whole idea of trigueñidad.

    hold on, i need to go puke. [blyech]

    with that out of the way, i guess that i wouldn’t count as hispanic in your book, unamused. that’s okay; i’m used to it — so much so that while i often speak english like a british public schoolboy, and french like a graduate of a grande ecole, my spanish is puro jibaro. in america-speak, that’s “pure country”. and the reason that my accent in spanish remains jibaro is to underline the fact that, guess what, there are people throughout latin america who look like me. the next person that says “you’re black, you can’t be puerto rican” gets stabbed. /stereotype.

    click on the username, there’s a pic of me. while that pic is about 17 years old, i look the same, minus the hair.

    i wonder, since i wouldn’t count as hispanic in your book, if most chilean presidents or runners-up since 1850 wouldn’t count either. you might need to know a bit of chilean history. but here’s a rundown of the surnames of some of those people: frei, pinochet, bachelet, lagos, alessandri, oh wait, there’s *another* frei in there as well. also, allende’s *last* name was gossens… do you see where i’m going with this? if “hispanic” is a race, then so is “american” — and if you believe that one, i’ve got a time share to sell you on south georgia.

    hell, we can even throw in fujimori, kubishek, and galtieri just for good measure, right?

    i’m guessing you have missed the bits of the history in spanish america where the peninsulares and the criollos went out of their way not to contaminate their blood with that of either the blacks or the indians — and that is where, to this day, most of the economic and political power remains in most of latin america. in other words, the reason you don’t see too many white people from [insert latin american country with very large indio/negro/mulato/mestizo populations] in the usa is because they run the show at home. life is too good for them to leave.

    one of my jibes against the cousin-humping dominicans [white dominicans have been known to marry their cousins to para mantener la sangre pura] is that in order to see large numbers of white dominicans, you need to go to a) the exclusive nightclubs or b) the legislature. other than that, you won’t see them.

    but you just stick to your whole myth of trigueñidad, if it helps you sleep at night.

  11. Unamused says:

    I have no idea who you are or why you call yourself Hispanic, and it’s completely irrelevant to everything I wrote, but sure, why don’t you go ahead and take it all personally. It was alllllll supposed to be a slur against you. It’s too bad I made you puke. When you’re all better, maybe you can define “trigueñidad” since I don’t speak that language.

    You seem to have a problem with the notion of white Latin-Americans not being called Hispanic under my definition. Not sure why that upsets you so much. You know saying people’s last names doesn’t actually prove they’re Hispanic (or not), right? You’re not making any sense. Choose something I have said and argue against it — or just give up, that works too. You should probably start by reading my post about Hispanics (and understanding it).

    I’m also not sure why you think I’ve invented genetic histories in order to “sleep at night.”

  12. I am a Historian/student for my Masters in Caribbean Studies,the documentary was VERY Biased, Gates has a history of doing this as he also did this to England and Africa, is anti-reparations, blames Africans mostly for slave trade, and boasts being over 50% Irish.

    1. Dr Gates claims that there are no statues of black heroes in the DR? That is false. Gregorio Luperón is considered one of the greatest heroes of the country, having fought in the War of Restoration. There are hundreds of statues in his honor. Every city and town has a street, avenue, park, public building named after him, school textbook all mention him, his birthday is a national holiday. There are other black/mulato national heroes that are honored with statues, their rightful place in the history books, etc such as Francisco del Rosario Sánchez (one of the three founding fathers of the country). In Santo Domingo there is a museum called Museo del Hombre Dominicano with an entire floor is dedicated to slavery and the African heritage, and in front of the museum there are three statues, one of which is in honor of Lemba, an African slave that revolted and fought for his liberty in slavery times.

    2. In the video the guy that was answering Dr Gates question claimed that no one in the Dominican Republic considers themselves black, yet that’s not true. While there are many blacks that are in denial, many others are not and they do identify as black as can be seen in the census data where 11% of the population identifies as black and nothing else. You need to understand that Dominicans refer to actual skin color not race when they are asked to describe their skin color. As a result, only those people who are charcoal-black are considered to be of the black color, those that are as light as wheat or lighter are considered of the white color, and those of shades of brown would be referred to as mulatto or indio. Now, the use indio to describe the mulatto color in the past was used as an attempt to deny the African heritage, but this is no longer the case. It has taken a new meaning (as happens with many words around the world) and it simply means a person of brown color. It doesn’t mean that Dominicans actually think of themselves as indians, since their African heritage is taught in the public schools.

    3. While it’s true that the indigenismo movement in the late 19th century and early 20th century started as an attempt to exalt the Taino heritage over the African heritage, and that lead to the popularization of the Indio word as a skin color description; this doesn’t mean that there is no Taino heritage in Dominican culture. There are many cultural practices within the Dominican population that comes directly from the Taino indians such as eating Casabe (a special flat bread originally invented by the Tainos) or the use of the Güira musical instrument (an original Taino invention) among many other things. There is no question that the bulk of Dominican culture is a mixture of African and Spanish, but there is also a Taino influence as well. A DNA study was done by the University of Puerto Rico – Mayagüez campus both in Puerto Rico and in the Dominican Republic, and the Dominican results were that while there are no full blooded Taino descendants in the Dominican Republic, a full 15% of the population DOES HAVE some Taino ancestry. Again, this is not to say that Dominican culture is Taino 100%, but there is something still left in the blood, in the lifestyle, in the music, in the language and in every facet of contemporary Dominican life; along with the African and the Spanish, and to a lesser degree Arab too.

    (Here’s a link refering to the DNA test I mentioned earlier: caribbeanbusiness.Page Ranking – UPR professor: Taíno genes in D.R. )
    Also Gates said he did not find statues or streets or anything else named after blacks, well he missed the statue of Gregorio Luperon as mentioned,also the SDQ international airport named after Francisco Gomez Pena (Named after a former Mayor and intellectual who was black ) who came to the DR due to a Dominican family who saved him from the Parsley Massacre and adopted him as their own son who almost became president, and was caught in a “birther” scandal similar to the one Obama is in now! Seems Dr isn’t the only one with race problems. Also if Gates were looking at mulatto-black leader as he did “find” in Cuba ,Gates failed to mention our other black presidents like Ulysses Herieax or Gregorio Luperon who controlled the North Coast (and has a bronze statue on a horse in front of the capital in Santiago and Puerta Plata) and fought Spain from trying to reintroduce slavery (& the Haitians backed him a Dominican leader, but that would have been to complicated)? Also it would have been to complicated to acknowledge that Cuba, DR and Venezuela didnt just “pledge” money to Haiti after the earthquake they “gave” money to Haiti unlike the “superpowers” pledging billions.

    What does Gates want? the self proclaimed 58% Irishman who like many Americans with their own definitions of race, doe NOT like others identifying themselves as mulatto as Gates does (& Proved it in African American Lives with Oprah being declared 1/2 Native American and Gates 1/2 Irish)? Carnival wasnt African enough for him or our food such as Sancocho which defines our tri-racial identity Africano-Taino-Espanoles (why not he found it in Cuba with Ajiaco and looked “proud” eating it! )? or our language and slang? or our younger musical groups??? or Bachata which he failed to mention? or merengue?

    Gates also only spent 23 minutes in DR and 40 in Haiti maybe thats why he also walked down the Zona Colonial and seemed to get all the information he wanted to before going to Haiti where he wanted to be. Dr. Gates didnt mention some Haitians are mixed and proud of speaking only French and not creole nor mix with the lower caste Haitians, leaders in the 60’s and 70’s had to tell the dip your buckets down below and dip into the African Haitian culture below, a homogeneous identity didnt occur overnight and according to many middle class Haitians kicked out during Papa doc, Baby Doc and Aristide never will because the middle class was destroyed, but we cant mention that too. Many of thier leaders were actually mulatos they put in Bronze instead of our heroes in Marble, it was so biased, and the part that irks me is comparing us to Haiti would make us look like we are not as African but the irony is so would comparing Haitians compared to the “anglo” African Americans who Haitians call “blanc” (yes that means “white”), or Jamaicans, or Brazillains, Its dangerous for Americans to now put thier racial standards on others who have developed different histories of race, form virtually no segregation, no laws against intermarriage and no need for a civil rights movement, and the dreaded one drop rule clouds the minds of Americans to the point Jesse Jackson says Soledad O Brien isn’t black enough and neither is Tiger Woods or Mariah Carey but “they should dare deny their “blackness” or they become enraged. People in America have all the same hang ups as the rest of the diaspora if you dont beleive it listen to Malcolm X ,read the Souls of Black Folk by WEB Duboius, or watch Good Hair by Chris Rock., but you condemn others for their mishaps frequently wasn’t it the Afro-American fraternities who administered their own paper bag tests as Trujillo murdered thousands of Dominicans (not just ones of Haitian descent) and Haitians?

    Do you recall if he mentioned any of the following?…ingo-1801-1844

    Haitian Invasions and Occupation of Santo Domingo (1801-1844)

    I’ll keep it brief and factual:

    1) 1801: Toussaint L’Ouveture invades Santo Domingo.

    2) 1805: Dessalines (the butcher) invades Santo Domingo.

    3) 1822: Boyer invades and then occupies DR.

    4) 1822-1844: During the Haitian occupation:
    a) Repression of Dominican Catholicism (severed ties to Rome, deported foreign clergy, confiscated Church property, etc. )
    b) Repression of Spanish language and culture
    c) Forced Dominicans to also pay the fine imposed by France upon Haiti in order to recognize Haiti’s independence which bankrupted both sides.

    5) 1844: Riviere-Herard invades DR.

    6) 1849: Soulouqe invades DR.

    7) 1855: Souloque invades DR (again).

    8) 1963: Duvaliers police occupy Dominican embassy in Haiti

    I hate people who try to simplify history to meet thier bias,agenda or prerogative to sell videos, books, or sensationalize it, Do the deaths of Dominicans by Desalines mean all Haitians are bad? No, and black people can oppress other black people, look at Duvalier or more proof or Liberian History of African American slave descendants mistreating native Africans for having more European blood.

    Also Gates did DNA studies on his Brazillian episode but if he did one in DR he would have found Dominicans have 85 percent have African ancestors, 9.4 Indian, and less than .08 European. DNA from paternal lines found 58 percent from European ancestors, 36 from African, and 1 percent Indian. Pretty mixed up, we just go by mixed rather than the term black which one would naturally do in a predominantly American/European society defined by the one drop rule and had rules against “miscegenation”.

    For more on Dominican Independence and understanding it was about freedom ,anti-taxation, and freedom of religion and language than racism, one needs to watch this lecture by Dr Torres Salliant who also appeared in the Documentary at the Plaza de Los Heroes in gates Documentary. YouTube – Dominican Independence – Silvio Torress-Saillant

  13. Joe says:

    I’ll keep an eye on this series, but I think you were unnecessarily harsh on the documentary. Also, you could use some editing of your own in this post.


    not all Dominicans are anti-African/anti-black/anti-Haitian, in fact many, many do understand and accept their blackness (most don’t though)

    Well which is it? the majority does or does not accept their blackness.

    * Haiti is the first black, independent country in the western hemisphere. It has also had its history misconstrued and ignored so its no surprise that a documentary called Black in Latin America would choose to focus on it. Even though they share the same island, historically, they couldn’t be any more different. Most of the news you get out of Haiti is the incredible amount of suffering there. In fact, the only time I heard different was through a professor that used to go there when she was a kid (~60s) and had wonderful stories and photos to share. Haiti is a country that doesn’t get talked about enough.

    * I’ll ignore the pedantry in criticizing other peoples pronounciation of non-native languages. At least he got the double-Ls right which is far better than most Americans.

    * I can forgive the selection of music because it’s not the focus of the series.

  14. Fly Brother says:

    Jessy: Thank you for commenting. It’s heartening to see someone up on their history, and I’m glad you pointed out some of the black Dominican heroes that Gates did, indeed, overlook. I agree with you on several points:

    – Gates didn’t give the DR its due, and he stuck to La Capital instead of heading farther afield and taking a broader look at the country and its attitudes. He generalizes a lot – we all do to some extent – but when making a documentary, generalities can lead to misinformation.
    – ‘Color’ is definitely a word most often invoked in census taking in Latin America, as opposed to ‘race.’ When taking a blood test at a public clinic here in Brazil, I was asked to choose one of several color choices that were offered and told the woman, ‘meu cor é caramelo, mais minha raça é negra.’ She laughed.
    – As I said, there are many, mostly younger, Dominicans who are accepting of their African heritage. Decidedly not the majority, but attitudes are changing. Also, in my experience, I’ve encountered many, again mostly younger, Latinos who embrace all aspects of their heritage, which is only a good thing.
    – Dessalines, regardless of how understandable his motivations given the historical context, was indeed a butcher. And Gates neglected to mention the mixed-race segment of Haiti’s population (decimated by exile and murder – especially under Papa Doc – but nonetheless existent).

    I disagree with you about the following points:

    – While younger generations, learning about their African heritage in Dominican schools, might embrace the idea of índio as ‘a person of brown color,’ many still hold the pervasive view of Indian-ness as a desirable alternative to blackness: I’ve lived and studied in the DR, I speak Spanish, and I’ve heard the negative comments, as an índio or trigueño, about negros and prietos.
    – While Gates should indeed acknowledge surviving indigenous contributions to societies in the hemisphere (daily bathing, for instance), the focus of the documentary is elucidated in the title – Black in Latin America – and is, in this particular case, as topically tangential as Syrio-Lebanese, Italian, or Japanese cultural influence in Latin America. Embracing blackness in Latin cultures is not an exclusion of the other cultural influences, unlike the historical negation of African influence in Latin America by associating all non-European influences with indigenous culture and traditions.
    – At the time of Haiti’s independence, a full 60% (if not more) of the country’s population had been born in Africa. There had never been efforts by the French for full-scale cultural integration in the colony, therefore a strong African element has been a part of Haitian national identity since its inception.
    – No one has ever claimed the US doesn’t have its racial hang-ups; black Americans are no more immune to self-degradation and idealizing European standards of beauty than any other post-colonial society. I know all about not being ‘black enough’ – I’ve lived it. The difference, however, is that the paper bag tests you mention are no longer socially acceptable in the US. Yet how many ‘paper bag tests’ do I witness on a daily basis living and working in Brazil, where I’m the darkest person not working in a service position in my building, yet my skin tone is the status quo in the working-class neighborhood where I choose to live? What about the absolute joy induced by having a child born with blue eyes and yellow hair in Latin America, or the absolute earnestness with which hotel security guards ask how they can ‘help’ me until I tell them ‘no, you can’t’ in English. My friend, the ‘paper bag test’ is alive and well in Latin America, just as is the need for a civil rights movement – not exactly race-based as in the US, but certainly class-based; the faces would be no less browner – for citizens who build and run these societies to be treated by their employers, et al, with the respect they have earned and deserve. Besides, if it weren’t for that same civil rights movement, dark-skinned immigrants from the DR or most other places would hardly have been welcomed to live, study, and work in the US…they would have been relegated to segregated facilities (yes, even in the North) like the other Negroes. Lest we forget, with all the negative indices plaguing the community, black Americans are the most socio-economically integrated on all levels of any African-descended ethnic group in the Western Hemisphere. That’s what civil rights movements do. Please stop and consider the benefits that you may have reaped because of the American civil rights movement.
    – Calling yourself ‘mulatto’ in the US, knowing it’s historical context as a slave term, is intentionally provoking an attitude of ‘better than’-ism, and you know this to be the case. We all live under the matrix of European-imposed labels and blacks did not invent the one-drop rule. Calling yourself the product of several cultures is one thing; invoking European ancestry as if that makes you different and special – as your DNA analyses attest, it’s not – is where the problem lies. Did the woman who called the police on Gates report a half-Irish man ‘breaking into’ a house? Do the people who rail against Obama call him a half-nigger? Percentages mean nothing in the face of discrimination and racism. Never have, never will.
    – And by the way, I TEACH The Souls of Black Folk in my English classes, but that you for recommending it just the same. Please do consider that not every black American is against you, Dominicans, or Latinos. We all need to understand our shared history in the Diaspora and how our cultures have influenced each other positively.

    Again, I appreciate your comments and thank you for reading. I actually look forward to hearing more from you in the future, and will be in NYC at the end of the month, if you’re in the area and want to get a good ‘idea-exchange’ going.

  15. Fly Brother says:

    Joe: Thanks for stopping by. Responding to your comments:

    – I could always use a good copy editor, but unfortunately, the position is unpaid, LOL. Unlike the thousands of dollars that went into making a PBS documentary with an Ivy League professor, where I’m sure they could have afforded a few consultants. You interested in the post?
    – I have no hard numbers, but I’d say less than half of Dominicans, in my quasi-humble opinion as someone who’s lived and studied there, are accepting of their African heritage. The number is growing as education is improved, but I stand behind my ‘many, many do but most don’t’ assertion.
    – Did I say Haiti was not the first black independent country in the Western Hemisphere? If I insinuated otherwise (I should re-check the post, but I’m actually at work now), that was my mistake. Good catch!
    – It’s fine that you ‘ignore the pedantry’ of incorrect pronunciation, but as an educator (of both language and social sciences), it’s expected that I put forth the most correct information I possibly can. He didn’t get the double-Ls right, he pronounced them as an ‘H’. But then, I’ve been trained to be pedantic; it’s what I’m paid for.
    – Music is an inextricable part of culture, and even more so with regards to African contributions to Latin American culture; it is absolutely one focus of the series. I can’t forgive the mislabelling of music, even if you can.

    Big production budget, big marketing budget, potential to impact untold numbers of students/interested parties for years. Yes, we all make mistakes, but when we have ample finances and a team of ‘experts’ at our disposal, those mistakes should be minimal. It’s a documentary that’s going to be used in schools for chrissakes, not a podcast!

    Again, B+. Just my opinions. Thanks for yours.

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