No Racism Here?
Woman in the Dominican Republic
By Kiini Ibura Salaam
When I first returned home from studying
abroad, everyone wanted to know, "How was the Dominican
Republic?" I was reluctant to respond. Masking the truth
behind "fine's" and "good's," I skirted my
real feelings. "Did you like it?" is such a loaded
question that it can't be answered with a simple "yes"
or "no." For a long time, I refused to talk about the
Dominican Republic at all. I wanted to spend neither the time
nor the energy to reach into my soul and give honest answers to
the inquisitions - I think I'm ready now.
Sharing the island with Haiti, the Dominican
Republic floats in the Caribbean Sea to the lower right of Cuba
and upper left of Puerto Rico. The constant sunshine liberates
its inhabitants from the oppressive layers and heavy coats
winter requires. The strange sizes of the trees and flowers are
astounding. My host-family frequently introduced me to
unfamiliar fruits of varying colors and shapes.
family-oriented society, the Dominican Republic relies on the
family unit as its center. For me, the greatest thing about the
Dominican Republic is the night life. Dominicans are serious
about partying. The beautiful lyrics, strong rhythms, and complex
dance steps of merengue and salsa trapped me from the beginning.
It was easy to fall in love with Dominican culture.
But the warm weather and intoxicating music
aren't the things that stilled my tongue when asked to speak
about the Dominican Republic. What silenced me is the
double-edged sword of racism and sexism that unmercifully
pricked me throughout my journey.
Ironically, one of the phrases
I heard repeated most often in the Dominican Republic is
"No hay racismo aquí." (There's no racism here).
Dominicans do not believe racism exists in their country. This
lack of consciousness made the racism an unusually heavy burden
to bear. When trying to discuss my feelings and problems, I
constantly met with resistance. Instead of receiving support and
understanding, I was bombarded with negations that the
discrimination I was experiencing was real.
To the credit of the Dominican people, I must
comment that there are two factors that intensified the racism I
suffered. Firstly, the city of Santiago, where I lived, has a
significant number of white or lighter skinned people. These
people are, by virtue of institutionalized racism, classism, and
other factors, richer and "better educated" than the
Although the common Dominican I encountered
on the street often reacted to me in a similar manner as the
"upper-class" Dominicans, I cannot definitively say
that the racist climate that permeates Santiago is
representative of the racial climate in every Dominican city.
The second factor that influenced my experiences is my outer
appearance. I do not perm my hair and often dress in
African-influenced styles. Because of this, the racism I
experience in any country, including the United States, is often
more intense than that experienced by other African Americans.
Just like African Americans, Dominicans come
in all hues and shades. They are a many-toned people, formed by
the familiar mix of European "conqueror" and African
"slave" with the extra ingredient of the island's
original indigenous people thrown in.
Unlike the situation in
the United States where color dictates culture, in Dominican
society, everyone shares the same culture regardless of color.
"White" Dominicans eat rice and beans, dance the
merengue and kiss upon meeting, just as "black"
Dominicans do. Except for the differences due to racist
manifestation of class (through which the rich just happen to be
white and the poor just happen to be black), there are no
inherent differences in the lifestyles of "white" and
In one Dominican family, one child
can be considered black and the other white. Though siblings,
their different skin colors make them two different races.
Because of this unique structure, I was forced to live and deal
with prejudices in new ways. I could not avoid problems by
living with a "black" family. There were no black
families. I had to live within a community that rejected me.
Dominican racism is at once foreign and
familiar. It contains some of the same patterns of self-hatred
found in the black communities of the United States. Imagine my
surprise when I heard the familiar phrases "bad hair"
and "bettering the race" transformed by the Spanish
Just as the English language connotes the word 'white'
with purity and goodness, Dominican Spanish makes similar
connections. One host mother described her study-abroad son in
one breath of linked words: "so nice, so sweet, and so
white." Her verbal connection of these words exposed her
mental relationship to them. For her the words 'nice,' 'sweet,'
and 'white' are interchangeable. Through these similarities I
realized that in many ways all oppressed people have to fight
the same patterns of self-hatred and confusion as we do in the
The uniqueness of Dominican racism lies in
its subtleties; it is not a loud, obvious creature. It has no
gloating, self-satisfied white face. The fervent denial of its
existence made it hard for me to recognize its familiar traps.
Although I was aware that I was being ignored throughout my
trip, I did not always understand why. It seemed that the
Dominican students selected to guide us through the university
were magnetized by the white students, but they had little time
and patience for us black students.
I was often confused, angry
and depressed. I spent an entire month and a half watching men
constantly beg my two white friends for dances and reluctantly
ask my two black friends (with permed hair) for dances before I
realized no one was asking me to dance. I spent many nights in a
dark corner of a discotheque surrounded by men who found my body
appealing enough to comment on in the streets, but my hair
appalling enough to ignore me in the discos. I began to see a
trend in their behavior and I recognized this trend as
Racialized sexism is that peculiar brand of
discrimination that breeds on black women (and other women of
color) while somehow missing black men and white women
Becoming aware of its existence explained why all
the host mothers constantly told me how beautiful I could look
if only I would fix (read: perm) my hair. Racialized sexism
explained why my friend Vincent, also a possessor of natural
hair, never had to defend his choice to wear his hair "that
way." It explained why I thought constantly having
different parts of my body grabbed in the street was a common
experience until I discussed it with some of the white female
students. They were shocked. Only their flaxen hair had been
touched, never their bodies.
This blend of racism and sexism was the
roughest thing to handle. I was equipped to deal with the
racism, but not the mixture of the two. After some time, we
black students became accustomed to the horrified glances and
gasps we received when we referred to ourselves as black. One
host-mother in particular would stop us saying, "No, no,
no, don't call yourself black, you're Indian."
have created a myriad of names - morena (brown), india (indian),
blanca oscura (dark white), trigueño (wheat colored) - to avoid
referring to themselves as black. Nothing prepared us for a
weekend field trip to the country where our weekend hosts got to
pick the students they wanted to put up for the night. The first
picked were the blondes. Standing there desolate and alone at
the end were the blacks.
While I had a cordial, comfortable
relationship with my host family, on many occasions I felt they
might have related to me better were I white. When I would
eagerly show them photographs of my friends from weekend trips,
their eyes would go straight through my black friends'
unsuspecting smiling faces and examine the blondes in the
background. "Who's she?" they would ask, "Is she
part of your group?"
Existing in a situation which I felt to be a
daily negation of my being deeply affected me. I am a steel
trap; I don't cry, and I didn't cry once while I was there. Now
that I have returned, I sprout tears at the smallest
infractions. Within the safety of my home, I am finally letting
my wounds flow. Friends say I am quieter now and a bit more
serious. The experience has certainly sobered me, not to the
point of paralysis, but I walk the streets a bit more wary.
find myself still reacting to the groping hands I encountered on
Dominican streets. I have to force myself to pass men without
flinching. My eyes are glued to their swinging hands and at
their slightest movement in my direction, I am ready to react.
I don't want to recount every terrible
experience I encountered in the Dominican Republic. I don't want
to talk about the time I was refused entry into a club or the
times our host-mothers had negative reactions to our
black-Dominican and Haitian friends, but I can't open my mouth,
my thoughts, and my soul about the Dominican Republic without
these things flooding out.
I must emphasize that my experience was
unique. Many sisters who traveled to the Dominican Republic
enjoyed the trip and are ready to go back. Most of them didn't
have such extreme experiences as I and, even with those
extremes, I have no regrets.
With my pain and tears, I have
brought back joy and laughter. I never cease to amaze myself
upon hearing Spanish fall from my throat, my eyes will never
stop glowing when they remember the lush beauty of the entire
country, nor will my heart ever stop lifting at the memory of
spending a night in a Dominican night club dancing in perfect
sync with my friend Vincent watching the smiles of my friends
spin around me.
* * * * *
writing is a very natural form of expression to me. I could
write an essay on anything and make it relevant to the human
experience. The essays I conceive on my own examine social
difficulties I grapple with – sexual harassment and
international racism. Luckily, I've been invited to write essays
that explore more intimate elements of me as well: my father, my
brothers, being single.
Kiini Ibura Salaam © 1994 • Eyeball Literary Magazine, 2000
* * * * *
Ibura Salaam is a realistic woman.
She likes the feel
of a warm bed, understands the necessity of food, so she
works. At her day job, she corrects inconsequential
errors while remembering mornings spent wrestling with
words and sucking meaning from images. She frets,
knowing her 9-to-5 threatens her fragile relationship
Yet she always manages to
coax writing back into her graces. She begs writing’s
absolution with essays published in Colonize
This, When Race Becomes Real, Roll Call, Men We Cherish, Utne
Reader, Essence, and Ms. Magazine. She prostrates herself obediently with
fiction published in
When Butterflies Kiss,
Dark Matter, and
She tithes her art form with the KIS.list, a monthly e-report on
life as a writer. She produces www.kiiniibura.com
as an altar, an online offering of words.
Writing, expansive and forgiving, responds with a
flood of inspired embraces. Whether she be in her native New
Orleans, her adopted Brooklyn or her beloved Bahia, the writer
unabashedly bares herself to the caress of words. She writes
with holy gratitude, forever in love with her craft.
* * * * *
mixed race-isims in the Caribbean—Mariel Brown
Indi Groove, which
carries the amusing descriptive subtitle “It’s BBC meets
MTV under the coconut trees,” presents the interview
“mixed race-isims in the Caribbean_MARIEL Brown.”
Calling it “a must see for all the ‘Curly Heads’, ‘Reds’
and “Douglas,’” the video focuses on Trinidadian
director Mariel Brown’s observations on being of mixed
race and a woman in her profession, specifically in the
Caribbean. She speaks about how perceptions of her
identity shifts according to the standpoints of her
interlocutors and how, at times, this indeterminacy may
Mariel Brown is the
director of the creative and production company Savant,
and has been working in television and print since
1997. She is the managing editor of the art books
“Meiling: Fashion Designer” and “Barbara Jardine:
Goldsmith.” She has produced video features for TV6 and
the WITCO Sports Foundation Awards, and her features and
news reports have been broadcast on CNN and CARIBSCOPE.
Mariel is the creator and producer of “Sancoche” and
“Makin’ Mas”—television series “designed with Caribbean
content for a Caribbean audience.” She is director of
two documentary feature films: The Insatiable Season
(2007)—which was awarded the Audience Choice Award for
Best Documentary at the Trinidad and Tobago Film
Festival—and The Solitary Alchemist (2009).
Filmed in England,
Scotland, and Trinidad with an all-Trinidadian crew, The
Solitary Alchemist is “a moving and intimate portrait of
a life in art.” The film documents the life and work of
artist Barbara Jardine, affectionately known as Barbie,
delving into the artist’s intimate and professional
life. The documentary also explores the transformative
power of art as a way to get through pain.
Season: Making Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago traces
the evolution of one of Brian MacFarlane’s mas bands
from beginning to end. The Caribbean Review of Books
describes it as “a film that, simply and appropriately,
finds joy in the mundane romance of putting a mas
together, from the conceptualising of the band to the
construction of the costumes . . . and yes, in the end,
to wining down to the ground come Carnival Tuesday. . .
This is a highly enjoyable film, not least for the bits
of candour it is so adroitly able to capture.”
* * *
* * *
* * * * *
Aké: The Years of Childhood
By Wole Soyinka
Aké: The Years of Childhood is a
memoir of stunning beauty, humor, and
lyrical account of one boy's attempt to
grasp the often irrational and
hypocritical world of adults that
equally repels and seduces him. Soyinka
elevates brief anecdotes into history
lessons, conversations into morality
plays, memories into awakenings. Various
cultures, religions, and languages
mingled freely in the Aké of his youth,
fostering endless contradictions and
personalized hybrids, particularly when
it comes to religion. Christian
teachings, the wisdom of the ogboni, or
ruling elders, and the power of
alternately terrify and inspire him
carried equal metaphysical weight.
Surrounded by such a collage, he notes
that "God had a habit of either not
answering one's prayers at all, or
answering them in a way that was not
In writing from a child's perspective,
Soyinka expresses youthful idealism and
unfiltered honesty while escaping the
adult snares of cynicism and
intolerance. His stinging indictment of
colonialism takes on added power owing
to the elegance of his attack.
* * *
By Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie
Somebody has to tell the truth sometime, whatever that truth may be. In this, her début full collection, Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie offers up a body of work that bears its scars proudly, firm in the knowledge that each is evidence of a wound survived. These are songs of life in all its violent difficulty and beauty; songs of fury, songs of love. 'Karma's Footsteps' brims with things that must be said and turns the volume up, loud, giving silence its last rites. "Ekere Tallie's new work 'Karma's Footsteps' is as fierce with fight songs as it is with love songs. Searing with truths from the modern day world she is unafraid of the twelve foot waves that such honesties always manifest. A poet who "refuses to tiptoe" she enters and exits the page sometimes with short concise imagery, sometimes in the arms of delicate memoir. Her words pull the forgotten among us back into the lightning of our eyes.—Nikky Finney /
Ekere Tallie Table
Her Voice /
Mother Nature: Thoughts on Nourishing Your
Body, Mind, and Spirit During Pregnancy and Beyond www.ekeretallie.com
* * * * *
Ancient, Ancient: Short Fiction
By Kiini Ibura Salaam
Ancient, Ancient collects the short fiction by Kiini Ibura Salaam, of which acclaimed author and critic Nalo Hopkinson writes, ''Salaam treats words like the seductive weapons they are. She wields them to weave fierce, gorgeous stories that stroke your sensibilities, challenge your preconceptions, and leave you breathless with their beauty.'' Indeed, Ms. Salaam's stories are so permeated with sensuality that in her introduction to
Ancient, Ancient, Nisi Shawl, author of the award-winning Filter House, writes, ''Sexuality-cum-sensuality is the experiential link between mind and matter, the vivid and eternal refutation of the alleged dichotomy between them. This understanding is the foundation of my 2004 pronouncement on the burgeoning sexuality implicit in sf's Afro-diasporization. It is the core of many African-based philosophies. And it is the throbbing, glistening heart of Kiini's body of work. This book is alive. Be not afraid.''
* * * * *
Salvage the Bones
A Novel by Jesmyn Ward
On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake.
She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—
* * * * *
The New Jim Crow
Mass Incarceration in the Age of
By Michele Alexander
Contrary to the
rosy picture of race embodied in Barack
Obama's political success and Oprah
Winfrey's financial success, legal
scholar Alexander argues vigorously and
persuasively that [w]e have not ended
racial caste in America; we have merely
redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial
segregation has been replaced by mass
incarceration as a system of social
control (More African Americans are
under correctional control today... than
were enslaved in 1850). Alexander
reviews American racial history from the
colonies to the Clinton administration,
delineating its transformation into the
war on drugs. She offers an acute
analysis of the effect of this mass
incarceration upon former inmates who
will be discriminated against, legally,
for the rest of their lives, denied
employment, housing, education, and
Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action
may blur our vision of injustice: most
Americans know and don't know the truth
about mass incarceration—but her
carefully researched, deeply engaging,
and thoroughly readable book should
* * *
Life on Mars
By Tracy K. Smith
Tracy K. Smith, author of Life on Mars has been selected as the winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. In its review of the book, Publishers Weekly noted the collection's "lyric brilliance" and "political impulses [that] never falter." A New York Times review stated, "Smith is quick to suggest that the important thing is not to discover whether or not we're alone in the universe; it's to accept—or at least endure—the universe's mystery. . . . Religion, science, art: we turn to them for answers, but the questions persist, especially in times of grief. Smith's pairing of the philosophically minded poems in the book’s first section with the long elegy for her father in the second is brilliant." Life on Mars follows Smith's 2007 collection, Duende, which won the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets, the only award for poetry in the United States given to support a poet's second book, and the first Essence Literary Award for poetry, which recognizes the literary achievements of African Americans.
The Body’s Question (2003) was her first published collection. Smith said Life on Mars, published by small Minnesota press Graywolf, was inspired in part by her father, who was an engineer on the Hubble space telescope and died in 2008.
* * * * *
The White Masters
of the World
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
* * *
Ancient African Nations
* * * *
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Negro Digest / Black World
Browse all issues
* * *
Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
Only a Pawn in Their Game
Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /
George Jackson /
* * * *
The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg
Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804
January 1, 1804 -- The Founding
* * * * *
* * * *
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update 29 July 2012