la raza

Written Tuesday, March 15, 2011

On Monday we discussed race in the Dominican Republic, and specially, how Dominicans view themselves. Dominicans (and most Latinos) don’t look at race as “black,” “white,” etc. but rather view their race, regardless of physical features, as solely “Dominican.” This point of view is what caused recent changes in the US Census’s race category, because Latinos can be made of up any race.

The fact is race is a socially-constructed concept, and the reason why I will almost always be “African American” (or Black) before I’m “American” to most of the people that I meet is because I’ve been told that that’s what I am. Dominicans have been told that their race is “Dominican,” whether they are black or white. They are not at all shy about recognizing and bluntly stating physical features, however. And people are often plainly called, “Negra,” “Morena,” “Blanquito,” “Rubia,” “Flaco,” etc. as a way of addressing someone, or as a term of endearment.

I have a love-hate relationship with the way Dominicans/Latinos view race. On the one hand, it’s great that there’s no subcategory as far as Dominicans goes. Everyone is simply Dominican. Period. It would be kind of neat if we all looked at each other as just American, without the qualifier in front in the United States. This however does not mean that racism in the DR (or Latin America) does not exist. It looks a little different, but it does indeed. So the other side of it is that I’m very proud to be a Black American, and love including that type of American that I am. It’s a part of my history and my story. And those of us who identify as African American (or Black American) share a history and culture that is uniquely ours. This same sense of pride is not always prevalent in Latin America, including in the DR. Many people will tell you that they are not black. “No soy negro, soy moreno.” And black as night.

This is a complex issue that has deep roots, and I wont get into all of that now. I could never oversimplify in one concise phrase, but if I had to, I would say this: Long story short, regarding race or other issues, the oppressed have the tendency to take on the perception of themselves as have the oppressor. So there’s a tendency to rechazar (reject) anything that could be associated with what symbolizes your oppression. This includes physical features that stick out the most, like dark skin and kinky hair. This phenomenon has been true in both the US and Latin America. And it’s why we hear terms such as “good hair,” among blacks in the States; and its equal, “pelo bueno/pelo malo” in the DR and Latin America, and as well as “mejorar la raza” (It literally means to make the race better…you know, like how sometimes you’ll hear black women comment that if she procreated with someone of another race, that she’s have some “pretty babies?” Don’t act like you’ve never heard that one before.)

There’s a lot more I could say about this issue, but it’s bed time and I’m tired. My final thought is this: Regardless of race, nationality, generation or any other part of my identity, I’m so glad that the most important part of who I am is found in Christ. It matters more to me that I’m Christ’s than being Black, American, or anything else. Paul said it best: “Yet indeed I also count all thing loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:8). Whatever category we have to classify ourselves, let us first be found his, and everything else in 100th place. Let us count all other things that we have come to be or attain as dung (poop), simply for the prize of knowing the Beautiful Savior and the sweet companionship of the Holy Spirit! Cause there is really only one throne in each of our hearts, and something is there occupying it. Sometimes that’s hard to see, because we ourselves are what’s occupying that throne. But may it be our Creator and Redeemer!

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