Written Wednesday, July 13, 2011
The volunteers got together to celebrate the Fourth of July. I took a guagua (small bus) to get there, and on the way there was a Haitian man on the side of the road waiting for the bus. The cobrador (the guy that charges money and tells the driver when to stop and go), said to the driver, “The negro [black man] wants to get on.” When the bus stopped, the Haitian said that his friend was coming too, so the cobrador told him to go get him. He quickly returned with five more Haitian men. When the cobrador and the other passengers saw how many Haitians were getting on the bus, a lot of people mumbled amongst themselves. The cobrador made some loud comments and then said, “To the back, to the back, to the back, to the back!” Now, maybe I was a bit more sensitive to the “back-of-the-bus” concept in light of issues of racism and marginalized minority/ethnic groups because I had recently finished reading Black Like Me, but after hearing the cobrador tell the group of Haitians to get in the back, I started to tear up.
Now I have to be honest and present the possibility that the cobrador was trying to get them all to an available space as quickly as possible to get the bus moving again, but in light of Dominican-Haitian “race” relations, and how frequently Haitians experience discrimination in the DR, I’m personally more inclined to believe is was that, with some racism on the side.
Initially, the situation had me think to myself, “This is so ridiculous; to me, we are all Black, and in the States, we would ALL be considered Black.” But then I started to think, “Well, why is it that I think that way? Could it not be a product of the ‘one-drop rule’? And if so, is that any better?” Although there’s a part of me that relates to both Dominicans and Haitians because of our shared “blackness” in the world, the fact is that we are three distinct ethnic groups with three distinct histories. And though I am black, I’m as much of a foreigner in the DR as my white PCV counterparts. I’m called “gringa” (the word Latinos use for Americans, whites, or maybe just foreigners) just as they are. And, true, if either the Haitian man on the side of the road, or the cobrador were to visit the States, they would both be considered black. But they don’t share the experience, history or story of the Black Americans, whom for years (since coming to know blacks throughout the Americas) I have referred to as “black like me”: those of us whose ancestors rose from the pit of American slavery. There are Westerns (and others) who looked at the fighting between the Hutus and Tutsis and didn’t understand that it was genocide, because in their minds, each of the groups is black, so the distinctions are blurred. So maybe it’s the influence of such thinking that’s penetrated the way I view blackness—my own, as well as that of others.
This situation was one that’s really challenged my way of thinking. In processing it, whenever I’ve hit a wall, I’ve ultimately had to remind myself that race is very much a socially-constructed concept. And it really matters little how one classifies himself or how others do, as long as we treat one another with respect. And it was by preaching that message (and truly the grace of God) that those whom I consider “black like me” were indeed able to rise from the lowest caste of American society.
After continuing on, I met up with the others and we celebrated our nation’s independence, as Americans. All of us, Americans.
At the end of the day, I’m really just grateful for the love of Christ, and that in him, I’m accepted because I’m his; his love doesn’t depend on race or nationality or ethnicity, but he loves me because HE is love! I don’t have to (and truly can’t afford to) get too caught up in the labels that man gives us. It matters much more that I belong to him. What a relief!
Leave your thoughts on the race discussion, and enjoy a few pics from the 4th below.