I was reading the piece on Guanabee about black women using Dominican salons, and the fact that salon owners who cater to black hair are not too happy about it. I had several reactions to this, so let's begin...

I have to start by saying that in NY, this is not a phenomenon. Almost every black woman I know has at some point in time tried a Dominican salon, and some black women I know only go to Dominican salons. So I was a bit surprised to see such a strong reaction from black hair salon owners, which was basically "their hair is not like our hair, they're ruining your hair!" To which I have to agree with Alex at Guanabee and let out a big fat huh?!

There is as much variety in the texture of Dominican hair as their is in black women's hair. In my own immediate family you've got chemically relaxed hair, curly unmanageable hair, very manageable hair somewhere between wavy and curly, and curly yet manageable hair. In simplest Dominican hair terms: two heads of "good" hair and two heads of "bad" hair.

At any rate, what really struck me from the quotes in this post was the one attempting to explain the politics of good & bad hair in D.R. This person wants us to know that when Dominicans talk about good and bad hair (pelo bueno, pelo malo in espan-y-ole), this is merely a way of explaining how easy it is to deal with the hair, and not at all a commentary on race.

Hmm... well, yes, it is a way of explaining how manageable the hair is, and it's true that the actual race of the person usually has nothing to do with whether or not that person has good hair or bad hair. (In my own family, the two of us with "good" hair are darker than the ones with "bad" hair, for example.) But it's rather naïve to think that there is no history of race in identifying one type of hair as good and the other as bad.

I have to say, though, that any possibility of my taking this person seriously went out the window when I read:

But a person’s race is not so important in the Dominican Republic as it is in the United States; it’s just a feature, just part of your look. Almost every Dominican is a mixture, and almost every Dominican has textured hair.
Um. Not so much. Again, yes almost every Dominican is a mixture (really, it's inevitable). That's why, as I explained above, merely looking at a person will not give you any indication as to what kind of hair they have or what the rest of their family looks like.

But to say that race is not important in D.R.?

I can only guess that this person is either 1) completely uninformed and ignorant to the nuances of Dominican culture or 2) completely in denial about the nuances of Dominican culture.

I often say that Dominicans are some of the most racist people I know. I'm not backing down from that any time soon. Well, except just to clarify a bit. I know several Dominicans who are not racist, are very much aware of the dynamics of race, are well-informed, try their hardest to avoid judgment, etc. But people who grew up in D.R. and have not been pushed to question their perceptions of race are really quite racist. You can't tell them this, of course, because they will swear on the lives of everyone they know that they are not. But we all know they are.

If your family is from a town too close to Haiti, you are suddenly given the cold shoulder. If you are from any island that is not Cuba or P.R., you basically don't exist. And let's hope you're not African American, because then you are likely up to no good.

So yeah, race and racism in D.R. does not work the same way it does in the U.S. Because such a vast majority of Dominicans are mixed in some way, and because of the politics of the island, the dynamics are nothing like the way they are here.

But we can't pretend that because of that racism doesn't exist. There's no way we can ever fix this problem if everybody insists on ignoring it.


At Wed Nov 18, 06:38:00 PM Madama said...

Sally! Yes! Yes! Yes!

I don't know much about DR, but your analysis is right on for any and all unexamined privileges, assumptions and ways of living. Right now on Facebook I'm WRAGING WRAR on many fronts with people who are telling me because they grew up in a female head-of-household family they grew up in matriarchy! Or that they're not angry! That they have so controlled/overcome their shit that they have no use for anger and successfully "sublimiate" it.

And I could go on and on. But, what's driving me crazy is that when you ask people to examine certain assumptions, you get WALLS of "Why? I don't have that problem. You must have that problem."

It's a crazymaking scheme, alright. It's fucking hard to fight the enemy when they have outposts in your fucking haid.

Great post, gurlfriend.

At Thu Nov 19, 10:13:00 AM OuyangDan said...

I have a sort of Brother in Law from DR (he is married to my cousin who was raised like a sister to me), and I am just starting to feel my way around the race dynamics involved there. If I wasn't already awkward w/ some areas of race because of being bi-racial, I am having a harder time with it now, because I am going to run into something I am unfamiliar with addressing (does that make any sense?). This gives me a little more insight...(nothing to build a theory on mind you) because I have a lot of privilege to check in a lot of circles still, even as a WoC. It just tells me that what I know about navigating conversations on race isn't always going to be enough. I still have listening to do.

I hope that made sense...I am so foggy lately.

At Fri Nov 20, 11:38:00 AM frau sally benz said...

Thanks y'all. It really isn't as cut and dry as people make it out to be, and it's just so frustrating when people don't realize how delicate it all is. I'm certain that if I wasn't a Dominican immigrant, if all of my cousins didn't live in D.R. for so long, etc., I wouldn't really understand the complexity either. I'm trying to lay it out as best as I can, you know? Hopefully it helps...

At Fri Nov 20, 11:59:00 AM Madama said...

Sally--when you are inside any system, you learn the nuances, the non-verbals, you learn to speak in code, you hear the subtext louder than the spoken words...I think this applies to ANY system...and the longer you stay inside one system, the more you think it's just the way it is inside of that system. But not in my experience. It's how it is inside of any closed system. And by closed, I mean, that there are overt as well as very subtle cues, CUES, I'm saying (as you are pointing out), that signal who is an insider and who is an outsider. And so conformity to the insider behavior happens without ever being named or discussed, and the people who bump into the insider behavior and want to know what it is or why it is, are very genially asked to leave...


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