The Over-policing of Dominican Hair

Just recently, Morgan Miller published an article for American Quarterly, decrying her experience as an African-American woman with natural hair in the Dominican Republic. Morgan traveled to the Dominican Republic expecting a respite from the racism she experienced in her native United States. She arrived in a poor tropical island fully unaware of her own country's imposition of a political pigmentocracy vis-à-vis their training and backing of dictator Rafael Trujillo. 

Robert Crassweller in Trujillo: The Life and Times of a Caribbean Dictator writes of racial relations before Trujillo's rise to power. Crassweller stresses that in the Dominican Republic, the color line barely existed (149). A preference for “good hair” was the limit of racial awareness and indeed it was not unusual for a very dark man to be successful and receive full public acceptance in the highest circles of public life. Crassweller further adds that the ancient hostilities between the Dominican Republic and Haiti were national and public, not private and personal. Trujillo, whose own grandmother was Haitian, found it more convenient to antagonize the two peoples in order to pose as the savior of one.

Nixon and Trujillo. Life 1955
Sadly, it is true that curly hair often is looked down upon by many Dominicans, but to conflate a cultural preference to a court ruling is both disingenuous and an affront to the sovereignty of the Dominican Republic. Fortunately, us Dominicans are quite used to being visited by Americans looking to solve the island's problems.

Just shy of a hundred years ago, a group of Americans came to the Dominican Republic to help us solve our economic problems. They stayed until 1924, torturing and murdering anyone who opposed them, while feeding the rise of the most brutal dictator the Americas has ever seen, who murdered not only 37,000 Haitians, but also over 100,000 Dominicans during his reign of terror. 

Without any consideration for the pain and nightmares that many Dominicans still endure because of the brutal racial hierarchy imposed by our US-appointed "Benefactor," Morgan Miller wrote: "In the months that followed, lynchings of Haitians became more frequent, according to media reports. Black American friends that had come to study abroad were harassed and interrogated by police about their nationality."

To argue that lynchings are becoming "more frequent" is disingenuous, yellow journalism. Just recently, El Pais published an interview with sociologist Jose de Souza Martin: "Brazil has one lynching per day, it's nothing rare... skin color is not the primary motivator for a lynching, and in the first ten minutes, the pattern repeats itself, there is no difference; it's independent of the victim being black or white..."

Mr. de Souza Martin went on to add as to why lynchings take place in Brazil: "For the same reason they take place in Mozambique, in Mexico, Guatemala, and Argentina: public institutions don't work. Justice is slow, complicated... You can't argue the legality of a lynching with a mob convinced that someone is a child rapist."

In the span of 585 words, Ms. Morgan managed to conflate not only race with lynchings in a multi-cultural society, but also with a court decision, while then also erroneously claiming that it's becoming more common, as opposed to just over-reported by the international, sensationalist media. Morgan doesn't offer statistics, she simply claims she was a factual witness because she was taunted about her hair on the street by a people still recovering from a brutal, racist dictatorship. 

I lived in Asia from 2009 to 2011, and if I were to count the number of times that I was denied entry into a nightclub, or when my own students told me my natural hair looked like the homeless guy by the train station, or if I started to count the number of times I was asked improper questions, I would be sitting here, using personal anecdotes about my experience to heal my hurts and promote an anti-Korean agenda.

For me to argue that personal misconceptions and statements by individual South Koreans, a people who also just survived a brutal war and dictatorship, represent the whole country and its future goals: that's yellow journalism!

My own family members have been the most vocal about me cutting my afro. It's not only Dominican women whose hair is policed -- a Dominican man will simply be bullied and ridiculed by his own friends and family, warned that he looks homeless. I disagreed with them, and still do, but sadly I've grown more practical as I've gotten older. Just yesterday I flew into Bush airport in Houston, deciding to shave my head before flying. I knew I would be profiled by the TSA because of my appearance and place of birth, and indeed it was just the case. 

"How much money you have!? What were you doing in the Netherlands!?"

I replied: "My mom is a Dutch citizen, I have legal status in Europe."

The response was a very stern: "I asked you what YOU were doing there!"

I was forced to take out the bit of money I had in my pockets and count it in front of a crowd of strangers, denigrating and humiliating me because: "How could a Dominican afford to live in Korea and Europe and travel regularly?" 

I was even questioned about the names of my books. I replied: "My Knife, My Funeral... very light reading." The agent clicked through the computer: "I can't find them here." 

"They're on Amazon," I replied. At that point the agent realized the interrogation was futile, and allowed me entry into the very country where I'm a citizen.

Don't want immigration agents asking you loaded questions and trying to get a rise out of you? Don't travel! I've been to enough countries as a black man to know that immigration officers are simply looking to see who has a short temper, and who they can find an excuse to detain. Surely they have quotas to maintain, writers to harass and intimidate. The fact that Ms. Miller was not personally harassed by Dominican agents, and the fact that I fully expect to get harassed again by the authorities of her Homeland, just proves to me that many Americans are fully unaware of the privilege their place of birth confers, and want to project their expectations into other societies.