Dominican-American Etbnic/Racial Identities and United States Social Categories


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    In the 1980 Dominican census, 16 percent of the population were classified as blanco (‘white’), 73 percent were classified as indio (‘indian-colored’), a term used to refer to the phenotype of individuals who match stereotypes of combined African and European ancestry and 11 percent were classified as negro [‘black’] (Haggerty, 1991). These categories are social constructions, rather than objective reflections of phenotypes. The positive social connotations of “whiteness,” for example, lead many Caribbean Hispanics to identify themselves as white for the public record regardless of their precise phenotype (Dominguez, 1978:9). Judgments of color in the Dominican Republic also depend in part upon social attributes of an individual, as they do elsewhere in Latin America. Money, education and power, for example, “whiten” an individual, so that the color attributed to a higher class individual is often lighter than the color that would be attributed to an individual of the same phenotype of a lower class (Rout, 1976:287).


The majority of Dominicans have sub-Saharan African ancestry,1 which would make them “black” by historical United States ‘one-drop’ rules. Second generation Dominican high school students in Providence, Rhode Island do not identity their race in terms of black or white, but rather in terms of ethnolinguistic identity, as Dominican/Spanish/Hispanic. The distinctiveness of Dominican-American understandings of race is highlighted by comparing them with those of non-Hispanic, African descent second generation immigrants and with historical Dominican notions of social identity. Dominican second generation resistance to phenotype-racialization as black or white makes visible ethnic/racial formation processes that are often veiled, particularly in the construction of the category African-American. This resistance to black/white racialization suggests the transformative effects that post-1965 immigrants and their descendants are having on United States ethnic/racial categories.