While no longer a state sponsored movement, “antihaitianismo” (or anti-Haitian prejudice) is a historical and cultural part of Dominican identity today dating back to the colonial times. (Sagas 1995). Unlike most Latin American countries, the Dominican Republic does not celebrate its independence from its colonial master in Spain, but rather its independence from Haiti in 1844. The series of wars that were fought between 1844 and 1856 fostered anti-Haitian sentiment which Dominican leaders used to nationalize their population even to this day. (Sagas 1994). Among these nationalist leaders, the most infamous was President Rafael L. Trujillo who rose to power close to a century after Dominican independence from Haiti.
Antigaitianismo as a state policy: The Trujillo Era
Upon coming to power, Trujillo initiated “a well-publicized program of “Dominicanization” of the border region” that sought “to create a socio-cultural barrier against Haitian influences to reinforce” his violent expulsion and massacre of Haitians in 1937. This program sought to generate a sense of Dominican pride that made the poorest of Dominicans feel superior to any Haitian. Furthermore, to fortify a this socio-cultural barrier Trujillo sought to lighten the Dominican border population by encouraging large European migrations to the Dominican Republic. (Sagas 1995)
The propaganda campaign successfully engraved the following stereotype into the culture of all Dominicans :
“Haitians are an inferior people, the pure descendants of black African slaves who were illiterate, malnourished, disease-ridden and believed in voodoo; Haiti [is] also…the perennial enemy of the Dominican people, bent on taking over the East.“(Sagas 1995).
Post-Trujillo Racial Attitudes
Evidence of this continued sentiment can be seen in the racist 1994 campaign practice against dark skinned presidential candidate Jose Francisco Peña Gomez.Focusing on his suspected Haitian heritage, propaganda videos “broadcast on Dominican television portrayed the late Pena Gomez as hot-headed and irrational, shouting and arguing at political meetings–connoting negative stereotypes of Haitians as savage and uncivilized. ” (Howard 2001) In general, it is important to recognize that while the Trujillo regime implemented antihaitianismo as an official state policy, antihaitianismo has been part of Dominican identity since state colonialism and it is for this reason that it was so easily accepted as a state doctrine and why it is still present today.(Sagas 1995)
Today, just as centuries ago, Dominicans associate themselves with Whiteness, Catholicism, and Hispanic culture while Haitians are associated with Blackness, Voodoo and an African culture; Dominican mulattoes at the rejecting being labeled with the Haitians adopted the term Indio which referenced the perceived image of the extinct native population; in Dominican women rejection of Haitian identity is observed mainly through the process of relaxation and straightening of hair so as to resemble the smooth hair of the Indians or of the Europeans. (Tavernier). Lastly, the rejection of everything Haitian through a denial of African heritage, creates another race phenomenon in the Dominican Republic–a pigmentocracy.
Research on Dominican social perceptions conducted by Sidanius et al. (2001) finds that Dominicans of European ancestry were perceived to have the highest social status while those of African descent were thought to have the lowest; those of various intermediate mixed categories were thought of to have intermediate social status with the highest favoring those of lighter skin color. Below are a graphical representation of their results:
Further, Sidanius et al. (2001) helps us appreciate that in the Dominican Republic “neither…one’s economic status nor one’s level of education make a significant contribution to one’s racial classification over and above the effects of skin color.”
In general, “Dominicans are apparently able to make reliable status differentiations among people with very subtle distinctions in skin color, and perhaps other phenotypic features (e.g. hair texture), arrange themselves in a clear and consensually agreed upon hierarchal pattern.” (Sidanius et al. 2001).
The poor perceived status of darker individuals is salient in a survey conducted by Howard (2001) which asked university students if they would marry a darker partner;55% replied they would not. (Howard 2001). Interestingly though, the Dominican Republic is one of the countries with the highest rates of miscegenation between those of European and those of African descent–even higher than Brazil. (Sidanius et al. 2001) These two observations suggest that while not perfect, the Dominican Republic is less racist than many of its counterparts.
Regardless of ethnic perceptions, “in stark contrast to findings…in the United States and Israel, [in the Dominican Republic] patriotic attachment to the nation did not vary by “racial” category, nor was it positively associated with either Europhilic or Afrophobic tendencies within any “racial” category.” Interestingly, those of the middle and lower class has higher patriotic attachements to the Dominican Republic. (Sidanius et al. 2001). This observation is consistent with the propaganda and antihaitianismo culture fostered in the Dominican Republic. Even amongst the poorest Dominicans, there is cultivated sense of pride in the ‘fact’ that least they are not Haitian.