Last week, I saw a video shared on my Facebook timeline that featured children in the Dominican Republic undergoing the same colorism study children in the 1940s underwent in America, where two black psychologists used dolls to study children's attitudes on race. That same study has been replicated in recent years by numerous news networks to show how the issue of colorism is still a powerful one in our country.
In the video, the children, who ranged from the complexions of Halle Berry to Michelle Obama, were asked questions about which baby was "better," "more beautiful," and more likely to "succeed" when they became adults. The two babies included in the experiment were white and black.
In the case of success, the children, who were Dominican and predominantly of African descent (as is over 70 percent of the Dominican Republic) chose the white baby. For beauty, the white baby. For who was better, the white baby. While some of the children were conscious of racism, against it and embraced their skin color, the majority of the children tried to deny any affiliation with the darker baby. And while we can criticize the producers of this video for selecting a doll whose skin was so shiny and unrealistic in terms of looking like a regular human baby that many kids may be turned off by saying they look like him, the issue still exists.
But that video didn't make me shake my head in disgust. I didn't curse the Dominican society I grew up in or even the family members who I've heard say racist things about African-Americans. I was saddened because I thought just like them at one point in my life.
I was born, raised and still live in the Washington Heights section of New York City, which has the second largest share of Dominicans [the Bronx ranks first] living anywhere outside of the Dominican Republic. Growing up, my "Dominicaness" was questioned because of my complexion despite the majority of baseball stars (which Dominican idolize) resembling me. I had to prove I was Dominican by speaking Spanish. I endured N-word taunts. I almost felt like I had to go through an obstacle course to prove I was Dominican not just to people I went to school with, but bodega owners in my neighborhood. And all of those doubts and taunts never made me want to embrace my true roots, they made me want to deny them. I would fight back that "I wasn't black." I permed my hair at one point because I wasn't happy with my hair. I would refuse to date anyone that was anywhere near my complexion, a fact my friends even pointed out. I dressed up just to hear the "morenito fino" [many Dominicans call well-dressed dark-skin men this to insinuate they are not your typical black] words because they made me feel better about myself. But what I always understood was that I couldn't change my skin.
And then one day, my dad shocked me when he said that while he is Dominican and a Latino, he is a black man before all else. I found his comment strange and argued with him. I said to him: "You aren't black." And he replied that he is and that's where all our ancestors are from. The difference is we just speak Spanish in comparison to African-Americans. We are part of the diaspora. And once my dad uttered those words, my view on not just issues of race changed, but I did. My self-esteem rose. I began to read black literature. I began to embrace my roots, my complexion and fought back when I felt I was being treated differently because of the color of my skin.
For the first time in my life, sixteen years in, I heard my parents speak about race. I'm not sure if it was a lack of comfort with the language or just a fear to bring up the topic and make me aware of the country's history and how it could impact me, but that was my first time discussing it. And that's the case for a lot of Dominican children. But it's more pervasive for them in a country where anti-Haitian sentiment is at an all-time high. Where being Dominican makes you feel white and empowered because the majority of Haitians are black and in worse living conditions. Where television anchors, hosts and high-ranking politicians are all of a lighter hue. Where parents instill a lack of hopelessness in their children because they feel they can't overcome their skin color. Where perms are the norm. Where one of the country's biggest baseball stars lightened his skin. Where employers ask for a picture with your job application. Where passports once denied black as a color and included numerous hues aside from that to choose from. Where people wear hats to the beach and go as early as possible to avoid the blistering sun and its tanning effects. And where certain nightclubs, to this day, don't allow people of dark skin in.
The country my parents were born in and I adore so much has never had a civil rights movement. It never had a movement for its people to embrace their true roots and where they come from. It's never really looked at itself in the mirror.
The fate of the future of children in the Dominican Republic depends on so many factors: economics, opportunity, education, quality of life and so much more. But the most important factor that every child not just in the Dominican Republic but in the world needs to succeed is confidence.
We can only hope that the current generation and future generations find ways to effect change and gain the confidence needed to break barriers and become all they want to be; but from this video and the news you read every day about our country; how much confidence can we have that everything needed to help all this come together will?