ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
In one Dominican family, one child can be considered black and
the other white. Though siblings, their different skin colors make
them two different races. Because of this unique structure, I was
forced to live and deal with prejudices in new ways.
There’s No Racism Here?
A Black Woman in the Dominican Republic
By Kiini Ibura Salaam
When I first returned home from studying abroad, everyone wanted to know, “How was the Dominican Republic?” I was reluctant to respond. Masking the truth behind “fine’s” and “good’s,” I skirted my real feelings. “Did you like it?” is such a loaded question that it can’t be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” For a long time, I refused to talk about the Dominican Republic at all. I wanted to spend neither the time nor the energy to reach into my soul and give honest answers to the inquisitions – I think I’m ready now.
Sharing the island with Haiti, the Dominican Republic floats in the Caribbean Sea to the lower right of Cuba and upper left of Puerto Rico. The constant sunshine liberates its inhabitants from the oppressive layers and heavy coats winter requires. The strange sizes of the trees and flowers are astounding. My host-family frequently introduced me to unfamiliar fruits of varying colors and shapes.
As a family-oriented society, the Dominican Republic relies on the family unit as its center. For me, the greatest thing about the Dominican Republic is the night life. Dominicans are serious about partying. The beautiful lyrics, strong rhythms, and complex dance steps of merengue and salsa trapped me from the beginning. It was easy to fall in love with Dominican culture.
But the warm weather and intoxicating music aren’t the things that stilled my tongue when asked to speak about the Dominican Republic. What silenced me is the double-edged sword of racism and sexism that unmercifully pricked me throughout my journey.
Ironically, one of the phrases I heard repeated most often in the Dominican Republic is “No hay racismo aquí.” (There’s no racism here). Dominicans do not believe racism exists in their country. This lack of consciousness made the racism an unusually heavy burden to bear. When trying to discuss my feelings and problems, I constantly met with resistance. Instead of receiving support and understanding, I was bombarded with negations that the discrimination I was experiencing was real.
To the credit of the Dominican people, I must comment that there are two factors that intensified the racism I suffered. Firstly, the city of Santiago, where I lived, has a significant number of white or lighter skinned people. These people are, by virtue of institutionalized racism, classism, and other factors, richer and “better educated” than the average Dominican.
Although the common Dominican I encountered on the street often reacted to me in a similar manner as the “upper-class” Dominicans, I cannot definitively say that the racist climate that permeates Santiago is representative of the racial climate in every Dominican city.
The second factor that influenced my experiences is my outer appearance. I do not perm my hair and often dress in African-influenced styles. Because of this, the racism I experience in any country, including the United States, is often more intense than that experienced by other African Americans.
Just like African Americans, Dominicans come in all hues and shades. They are a many-toned people, formed by the familiar mix of European “conqueror” and African “slave” with the extra ingredient of the island’s original indigenous people thrown in.
Unlike the situation in the United States where color dictates culture, in Dominican society, everyone shares the same culture regardless of color. “White” Dominicans eat rice and beans, dance the merengue and kiss upon meeting, just as “black” Dominicans do. Except for the differences due to racist manifestation of class (through which the rich just happen to be white and the poor just happen to be black), there are no inherent differences in the lifestyles of “white” and “black” Dominicans.
In one Dominican family, one child can be considered black and the other white. Though siblings, their different skin colors make them two different races. Because of this unique structure, I was forced to live and deal with prejudices in new ways. I could not avoid problems by living with a “black” family. There were no black families. I had to live within a community that rejected me.
Dominican racism is at once foreign and familiar. It contains some of the same patterns of self-hatred found in the black communities of the United States. Imagine my surprise when I heard the familiar phrases “bad hair” and “bettering the race” transformed by the Spanish tongue.
Just as the English language connotes the word ‘white’ with purity and goodness, Dominican Spanish makes similar connections. One host mother described her study-abroad son in one breath of linked words: “so nice, so sweet, and so white.” Her verbal connection of these words exposed her mental relationship to them. For her the words ‘nice,’ ‘sweet,’ and ‘white’ are interchangeable. Through these similarities I realized that in many ways all oppressed people have to fight the same patterns of self-hatred and confusion as we do in the United States.
The uniqueness of Dominican racism lies in its subtleties; it is not a loud, obvious creature. It has no gloating, self-satisfied white face. The fervent denial of its existence made it hard for me to recognize its familiar traps. Although I was aware that I was being ignored throughout my trip, I did not always understand why. It seemed that the Dominican students selected to guide us through the university were magnetized by the white students, but they had little time and patience for us black students.
I was often confused, angry and depressed. I spent an entire month and a half watching men constantly beg my two white friends for dances and reluctantly ask my two black friends (with permed hair) for dances before I realized no one was asking me to dance. I spent many nights in a dark corner of a discotheque surrounded by men who found my body appealing enough to comment on in the streets, but my hair appalling enough to ignore me in the discos. I began to see a trend in their behavior and I recognized this trend as racialized sexism.
Racialized sexism is that peculiar brand of discrimination that breeds on black women (and other women of color) while somehow missing black men and white women completely.
Becoming aware of its existence explained why all the host mothers constantly told me how beautiful I could look if only I would fix (read: perm) my hair. Racialized sexism explained why my friend Vincent, also a possessor of natural hair, never had to defend his choice to wear his hair “that way.” It explained why I thought constantly having different parts of my body grabbed in the street was a common experience until I discussed it with some of the white female students. They were shocked. Only their flaxen hair had been touched, never their bodies.
This blend of racism and sexism was the roughest thing to handle. I was equipped to deal with the racism, but not the mixture of the two. After some time, we black students became accustomed to the horrified glances and gasps we received when we referred to ourselves as black. One host-mother in particular would stop us saying, “No, no, no, don’t call yourself black, you’re Indian.”
Dominicans have created a myriad of names – morena (brown), india (indian), blanca oscura (dark white), trigueño (wheat colored) – to avoid referring to themselves as black. Nothing prepared us for a weekend field trip to the country where our weekend hosts got to pick the students they wanted to put up for the night. The first picked were the blondes. Standing there desolate and alone at the end were the blacks.
While I had a cordial, comfortable relationship with my host family, on many occasions I felt they might have related to me better were I white. When I would eagerly show them photographs of my friends from weekend trips, their eyes would go straight through my black friends’ unsuspecting smiling faces and examine the blondes in the background. “Who’s she?” they would ask, “Is she part of your group?”
Existing in a situation which I felt to be a daily negation of my being deeply affected me. I am a steel trap; I don’t cry, and I didn’t cry once while I was there. Now that I have returned, I sprout tears at the smallest infractions. Within the safety of my home, I am finally letting my wounds flow. Friends say I am quieter now and a bit more serious. The experience has certainly sobered me, not to the point of paralysis, but I walk the streets a bit more wary.
I find myself still reacting to the groping hands I encountered on Dominican streets. I have to force myself to pass men without flinching. My eyes are glued to their swinging hands and at their slightest movement in my direction, I am ready to react.
I don’t want to recount every terrible experience I encountered in the Dominican Republic. I don’t want to talk about the time I was refused entry into a club or the times our host-mothers had negative reactions to our black-Dominican and Haitian friends, but I can’t open my mouth, my thoughts, and my soul about the Dominican Republic without these things flooding out.
I must emphasize that my experience was unique. Many sisters who traveled to the Dominican Republic enjoyed the trip and are ready to go back. Most of them didn’t have such extreme experiences as I and, even with those extremes, I have no regrets.
With my pain and tears, I have brought back joy and laughter. I never cease to amaze myself upon hearing Spanish fall from my throat, my eyes will never stop glowing when they remember the lush beauty of the entire country, nor will my heart ever stop lifting at the memory of spending a night in a Dominican night club dancing in perfect sync with my friend Vincent watching the smiles of my friends spin around me.
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Essay writing is a very natural form of expression to me. I could write an essay on anything and make it relevant to the human experience. The essays I conceive on my own examine social difficulties I grapple with sexual harassment and international racism. Luckily, I’ve been invited to write essays that explore more intimate elements of me as well: my father, my brothers, being single.
Kiini Ibura Salaam © 1994 Eyeball Literary Magazine, 2000
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Kiini Ibura Salaam is a realistic woman.
She likes the feel of a warm bed, understands the necessity of food, so she works. At her day job, she corrects inconsequential errors while remembering mornings spent wrestling with words and sucking meaning from images. She frets, knowing her 9-to-5 threatens her fragile relationship with writing.
Yet she always manages to coax writing back into her graces. She begs writings absolution with essays published in Colonize This, When Race Becomes Real, Roll Call, Men We Cherish, Utne Reader, Essence, and Ms. Magazine. She prostrates herself obediently with fiction published in Mojo: Conjure Stories, Black Silk, When Butterflies Kiss, Dark Matter, and Dark Eros. She tithes her art form with the KIS.list, a monthly e-report on life as a writer. She produces www.kiiniibura.com as an altar, an online offering of words.
Writing, expansive and forgiving, responds with a flood of inspired embraces. Whether she be in her native New Orleans, her adopted Brooklyn or her beloved Bahia, the writer unabashedly bares herself to the caress of words. She writes with holy gratitude, forever in love with her craft.
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Indi Groove, which carries the amusing descriptive subtitle Its BBC meets MTV under the coconut trees, presents the interview mixed race-isims in the Caribbean_MARIEL Brown. Calling it a must see for all the Curly Heads, Reds and Douglas, the video focuses on Trinidadian director Mariel Browns observations on being of mixed race and a woman in her profession, specifically in the Caribbean. She speaks about how perceptions of her identity shifts according to the standpoints of her interlocutors and how, at times, this indeterminacy may be painful.
Mariel Brown is the director of the creative and production company Savant, and has been working in television and print since 1997. She is the managing editor of the art books Meiling: Fashion Designer and Barbara Jardine: Goldsmith. She has produced video features for TV6 and the WITCO Sports Foundation Awards, and her features and news reports have been broadcast on CNN and CARIBSCOPE. Mariel is the creator and producer of Sancoche and Makin Mastelevision series designed with Caribbean content for a Caribbean audience. She is director of two documentary feature films: The Insatiable Season (2007)which was awarded the Audience Choice Award for Best Documentary at the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festivaland The Solitary Alchemist (2009).
Filmed in England, Scotland, and Trinidad with an all-Trinidadian crew, The Solitary Alchemist is a moving and intimate portrait of a life in art. The film documents the life and work of artist Barbara Jardine, affectionately known as Barbie, delving into the artists intimate and professional life. The documentary also explores the transformative power of art as a way to get through pain.
The Insatiable Season: Making Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago traces the evolution of one of Brian MacFarlanes mas bands from beginning to end. The Caribbean Review of Books describes it as a film that, simply and appropriately, finds joy in the mundane romance of putting a mas together, from the conceptualising of the band to the construction of the costumes . . . and yes, in the end, to wining down to the ground come Carnival Tuesday. . . This is a highly enjoyable film, not least for the bits of candour it is so adroitly able to capture.
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In November, some fans of Sammy Sosa, the former Chicago Cubs slugger, were surprised when photographs from the Latin Grammy Awards ceremony showed his face as uniformly lighter. Online critics accused him of wanting to be white. Mr. Sosa, a Dominican-born American citizen, told a reporter from ESPNDeportes.com that he had used a cream nightly to soften his skin and that it had bleached it, too. Im not a racist, he said in the interview. I live my life happily. Creams Offering Lighter Skin May Bring Risks
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#1 – Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark #2 – Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree #3 – Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane #4 – Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper #5 – Stackin’ Paper 2 Genesis’ Payback by Joy King #6 – Thug Lovin’ (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark #7 – When I Get Where I’m Going by Cheryl Robinson #8 – Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby #9 – The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane
#10 – Covenant: A Thriller by Brandon Massey
#11 – Diary Of A Street Diva by Ashley and JaQuavis
#12 – Don’t Ever Tell by Brandon Massey
#13 – For colored girls who have considered suicide by Ntozake Shange
#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree
#15 – Homemade Loves by J. California Cooper
#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper
#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber
#18 – Purple Panties: An Eroticanoir.com Anthology by Sidney Molare
#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King
#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey
#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe
#22 Thug Matrimony by Wahida Clark
#23 – Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark
#24 – Married Men by Carl Weber
#25 – I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter
#1 – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable #2 – Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans #3 – Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane #4 – Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper #5 – Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant #6 – Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey #7 – The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight #8 – The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing #9 – The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson
#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History by Ahati N. N. Toure
#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley
#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell
#14 – The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore
#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit by RM Johnson
#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins
#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell
#18 – A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle
#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard
#20 – Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris
#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice
#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields
#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class by Lisa B. Thompson
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By Wole Soyinka
Aké: The Years of Childhood is a memoir of stunning beauty, humor, and perception
a lyrical account of one boy’s attempt to grasp the often irrational and hypocritical world of adults that equally repels and seduces him. Soyinka elevates brief anecdotes into history lessons, conversations into morality plays, memories into awakenings. Various cultures, religions, and languages mingled freely in the Aké of his youth, fostering endless contradictions and personalized hybrids, particularly when it comes to religion. Christian teachings, the wisdom of the ogboni, or ruling elders, and the power of ancestral spirits
who alternately terrify and inspire him
all carried equal metaphysical weight. Surrounded by such a collage, he notes that “God had a habit of either not answering one’s prayers at all, or answering them in a way that was not straightforward.” In writing from a child’s perspective, Soyinka expresses youthful idealism and unfiltered honesty while escaping the adult snares of cynicism and intolerance. His stinging indictment of colonialism takes on added power owing to the elegance of his attack.
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By Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie
Somebody has to tell the truth sometime, whatever that truth may be. In this, her début full collection, Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie offers up a body of work that bears its scars proudly, firm in the knowledge that each is evidence of a wound survived. These are songs of life in all its violent difficulty and beauty; songs of fury, songs of love. ‘Karma’s Footsteps’ brims with things that must be said and turns the volume up, loud, giving silence its last rites. “Ekere Tallie’s new work ‘Karma’s Footsteps’ is as fierce with fight songs as it is with love songs. Searing with truths from the modern day world she is unafraid of the twelve foot waves that such honesties always manifest. A poet who “refuses to tiptoe” she enters and exits the page sometimes with short concise imagery, sometimes in the arms of delicate memoir. Her words pull the forgotten among us back into the lightning of our eyes.Nikky Finney / Ekere Tallie Table
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By Kiini Ibura Salaam
Ancient, Ancient collects the short fiction by Kiini Ibura Salaam, of which acclaimed author and critic Nalo Hopkinson writes, ”Salaam treats words like the seductive weapons they are. She wields them to weave fierce, gorgeous stories that stroke your sensibilities, challenge your preconceptions, and leave you breathless with their beauty.” Indeed, Ms. Salaam’s stories are so permeated with sensuality that in her introduction to
, Nisi Shawl, author of the award-winning Filter House, writes, ”Sexuality-cum-sensuality is the experiential link between mind and matter, the vivid and eternal refutation of the alleged dichotomy between them. This understanding is the foundation of my 2004 pronouncement on the burgeoning sexuality implicit in sf’s Afro-diasporization. It is the core of many African-based philosophies. And it is the throbbing, glistening heart of Kiini’s body of work. This book is alive. Be not afraid.”
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A Novel by Jesmyn Ward
On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family thats about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrinas inexorable winds is the voice of Wards narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her familys raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brothers blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt. Her fathers hands are like gravel, while her own hand slides through his grip like a wet fish, and a handsome boys muscles jabbered like chickens. Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isnt usually just metaphor for metaphors sake.
She conveys something fundamental about Eschs fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, whats salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.
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By Michele Alexander
Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama’s political success and Oprah Winfrey’s financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today… than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits.
Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don’t know the truth about mass incarcerationbut her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.Publishers Weekly
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By Tracy K. Smith
Tracy K. Smith, author of Life on Mars has been selected as the winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. In its review of the book, Publishers Weekly noted the collection’s “lyric brilliance” and “political impulses [that] never falter.” A New York Times review stated, “Smith is quick to suggest that the important thing is not to discover whether or not we’re alone in the universe; it’s to acceptor at least endurethe universe’s mystery. . . . Religion, science, art: we turn to them for answers, but the questions persist, especially in times of grief. Smith’s pairing of the philosophically minded poems in the books first section with the long elegy for her father in the second is brilliant.” Life on Mars follows Smith’s 2007 collection, Duende, which won the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets, the only award for poetry in the United States given to support a poet’s second book, and the first Essence Literary Award for poetry, which recognizes the literary achievements of African Americans.
The Bodys Question (2003) was her first published collection. Smith said Life on Mars, published by small Minnesota press Graywolf, was inspired in part by her father, who was an engineer on the Hubble space telescope and died in 2008.
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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update 29 July 2012