Hiding Black Behind the Ears: On Dominicans, Blackness, and Haiti

Hiding Black Behind the Ears: On Dominicans, Blackness, and Haiti


Roberto C. Garcia

The first friend I made in Elizabeth, New Jersey was a white kid named Billy. As a New York transplant my Dominicano look wasn’t too popular with Jersey folk. I had an afro, wore dress pants, a collared shirt, and black leather shoes with little gold buckles. Most of the kids just wanted to know what my thing was. Billy and I couldn’t have been more different, but we got close pretty quickly. Despite the fact that Billy’s parents wouldn’t allow him over my house, my grandmother allowed me over his. She took one look at Billy’s blonde hair and blue eyes, and at his mother’s middle class American manners, and pronounced their household safe. “Where are you from?” Billy’s mother asked, referring to my grandmother’s heavy accent. “I thought you were black.” On that day I couldn’t have imagined how many times I’d have to answer that question in my lifetime. “We’re Dominican.”

A couple years later, when the neighborhood became predominantly Cuban, African American, and Haitian, Billy and his family moved away. My new best friend was black, and his mother wouldn’t let him over my house either, on account of us being “Puerto Rican.” You can imagine our surprise when I returned with a similar story. My grandmother didn’t want me over his house because they were black. We looked each other over. Two skinny round-headed, chocolate brown boys wondering what the hell each other’s families were talking about. As far as we knew, we looked the same. My grandmother was just as black as Tyshaun’s mother and I told her as much every time she chided me about playing with him. What was I missing?…

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