I never really thought about my race. Of course, I was aware that there were different races, but when I was younger, I simply identified my race as Hispanic without a second thought.
However, as I began to think more about race, my identity became confused. Although my mother is light-skinned and my father is dark-skinned, they’re both from the Dominican Republic.They had three children and none of us look alike. My parents pointed out the difference between my second oldest brother and me through the nicknames “morenito” and “blanquita.” It wasn’t until I was older that I realized that colorism fueled these nicknames and plagues the Dominican Republic.
Growing up in the DR was confusing. To understand where I’m coming from, you must understand what colorism is. According to an article in Time called “The Difference Between Racism and Colorism,” colorism is “the prejudicial or preferential treatment of same-race people based solely on their color.”
Colorism is your mom straightening your hair because “it looks more presentable.” Colorism is your dad not letting you to go out to play when the sun’s out because “you’ll get darker.” Colorism is not identifying yourself as black because you’re too proud to be Dominican to be anything else. This thinking has poisoned Dominican society; people who live on the island have a rigid, preconceived idea of what it means to “look Dominican.”
Some Dominicans praise my European features, like my light skin and curly hair, but don’t think I look “Dominican enough”—AKA black enough—because my skin isn’t sun-kissed like theirs. I struggled to accept myself the way I am. How can I say I’m black if my skin says something different? I don’t identify as black because I don’t look black. I want to accept my roots, but I a constantly shut down because I don’t fit the mold.
My mother, my grandmother, my great-grandmother and I were all born in the DR. We are by definition and by history “black.” But if I told strangers that, I would get odd looks. Why? Because although my lineage is black, I do not go through the same struggles as my dark-skinned older brother. By sight, I am not identifiable as black, so I don’t face the same prejudices darker-skinned people do.
I think that to be Dominican is to accept all of the cultures that influenced the DR. Spanish, Taino and African are all important races that have contributed to the shaping of Dominican language, art and culture. Accepting that can clear the debate of what a Dominican is supposed to look like. The term Hispanic is a melting pot. Hispanics come in all shapes and colors.