Black lives under attack in the Dominican Republic: Why this crisis deserves our attention

As of Thursday, the Dominican Republic has chosen to proceed with the cleansing of its immigration rolls, implementing a policy of forcible expulsion of black persons who are or can be perceived as being of Haitian descent.

The policy, which violates various international treaties and conventions, is a clear-cut case of ethnic cleansing.

It is also the culmination of a rising tide in anti-Haitian sentiment within the Dominican Republic, born out of nearly a century of government-sanctioned prejudice, racist rhetoric and propaganda that openly targets blackness.

What seems to be escaping wider discourse surrounding the Dominican Republic’s policies is the avoidance of exposing its racial underpinnings.

There has been consistent hesitation among countries like the United States to openly condemn migrant policies due in part to its own complicated issues surrounding immigration.

However, let us be careful not to conflate the Dominican Republic’s inhumane and unjust immigration policy with its policy of denaturalization — a policy which employs clear racial markers and skin color to determine who it deems Dominican.

The veil of ethnicity is being cast out in the public purview to justify a migrant and naturalization policy primarily rooted in skin color. The consequences have been steep. There’s reportedly been a rise in public beatings, burnings, and lynchings since the Dominican Constitutional Tribunal ruled in 2013 to retroactively revoke naturalized citizenship from Dominicans of Haitian descent – a population which constitutes large swaths of the country’s black inhabitants.

Even more alarming than the prospect of forced deportation on the basis of skin color or perceived ethnicity is the real fear among black Dominicans that the rising government-sanctioned racially based rhetoric may culminate in genocide.

Recent acts of mob-violence against black Dominicans and Haitian migrants combined with historical precedent leave good reason for concern. Seventy-five years ago, in one of the 20th century’s least remembered acts of genocide, a policy of expulsion in the Dominican Republic led to the mass murder of nearly 20,000 black men, women and children thought to be Haitian.

The incident later came to be known as the Parsley Massacre.

In the years that have followed, racial classification among Dominicans has been fraught with colorism – as a desire to avoid being cast as Afro-Dominican (synonymous with Haitian ancestry) has permeated the national psyche.

Ironically, many Dominicans are in fact themselves descendants of former African slaves; yet many reject this fact in favor of asserting native Taino or Spanish heritage in order to avoid the undesirable social mark of being perceived as black. The implications of a continual rejection of black identity have perpetuated current race relations within the country.

In 2005, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights found that the Dominican Republic had consistently denied citizenship to black applicants on the sole basis of race. Adding insult to injury, the Dominican military began ‘Operation Shield‘ earlier this year, a process of seizing and expelling black migrant workers who had been denied citizenship on the basis of their skin color. The Dominican government justified these deportations by alleging these migrants had entered the country illegally — but it never provided a route for legal entry and provided little to no mechanism for black migrants to attain legal status.

What is occurring in the Dominican Republic is not merely an issue of immigration or of denaturalization. It is government-led attack on black inhabitants, black Dominican identity and black lives.

With all that is occurring in the United States around issues of black equity and equality, it is important to remember that if black lives are to matter here, they have to matter to everywhere.

The thinly veiled attack on black personhood occurring in a country not far removed from our own demands our attention.

The deeper and uncomfortable motivations behind these deportations should be laid bare, for minimizing the role race and skin color play within these prejudicial policies can serve as a form of historical erasure. Avoiding this truth only allows the Dominican government to mask its ethnic cleansing in the cloak of law.

We can not allow ourselves to be fooled by the mixed use of nomenclature when these black lives hang in the balance.

Blackness is being cast out of the Dominican Republic before our very eyes, and the code word is Haitian.