Inheriting Illegality: Race, Statelessness, and Dominico-Haitian Activism in the Dominican Republic

In 2013, the Dominican Republic’s highest court ruled to revoke birthright citizenship for over 200,000 Dominicans of Haitian descent. Ruling TC 168-13 prompted dialogue about race and racism in the country, breaking the racial silence that accompanies mestizaje (racial mixture). Scholars viewed this ruling through the lens of “Black denial” whereby Dominicans’ failure to adopt Black identities, despite being largely afrodescendant, fuels the racialization of Haitians as Black. Less evident in examinations of Dominican racial politics are anti-racist and anti-xenophobic organizing. Addressing the gap in scholarship on Dominican blackness, this dissertation project adopts an ethnographic approach to examine how Domicans of Haitian descent, most notably through Reconoci.do, a movement of denationalized youth, as well as the natural hair movement, engage with race. As one of the few well-articulated areas of Dominican society engaged with blackness, the natural hair movement provides a useful counterpoint for examining the intersections between blackness and Haitianess. In this work, I propose that natural hair vi has the potential to destabilize Haitian racialization yet, concurrently threatens to decouple the anti-racist movement from Dominico-Haitian struggles. These intersections illuminate the complex relationships within the heterogenous anti-racist movement.

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“The Problem with the Haitians is their Language”: Language as Color-Blind Racism

This project explores the mechanisms of exclusion and oppression of a Haitian population in a rural community in South West Florida. The analytical approach taken is an analysis of the social field and habitus as dispositions and embodied culture. Language has been identified as a tool to marginalize the population in the general social order. Through this process, language operates as a form of color-blind racism which justifies the exclusion of the Haitian community but is insufficient in explaining their overall social outcomes. Qualitative data were collected for this project in the form of unstructured interviews, focus groups, photographs of the local community, and observational field notes. Participants principally came from the Haitian population in the target community. Other community stakeholders, including elected county officials, were interviewed to obtain background and contextual information. Also consulted were county documents and demographic planning profiles. Secondary data were used for the quantitative analysis portion of this project. These data were taken from the US Census Bureau American Community Survey. Both aggregated data from the American Factfinder website and individual-level data from the IPUMS repository were downloaded in the completion of the secondary data analysis. The findings indicate that the habitus of the social field operates to exclude the Haitian population from the overall community in the areas of labor, health care, education, services, and local governance. In each of these arenas, language was cited as being a primary source of exclusion and problem for the Haitian population. Popular conceptions that the Haitian population needs to “learn English” in order to improve their status in the overall social structure were problematized as inferential testing indicated that proficiency in English is not a significant explanation for poverty status.

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Agrarian Change and Peasant Prospects in Haiti

Haiti is one of the poorest and most severely hunger-stricken countries in the world (GHI 2013). Its contradictions are jarring: although Haiti has the largest relative agrarian population in the Western Hemisphere and relatively less land inequality than the rest of the region (Smucker et al. 2000; Wiens and Sobrado 1998), it is extremely food insecure. Almost 90 percent of the rural population lives below the poverty line (FAO 2014; IFAD 2014), and Haiti relies on food imports for 60 percent of national consumption (OXFAM 2010). Some scholars argue that the spread of commodity relations, persistent rural class differentiation, and dispossession mean that most peasants can no longer reproduce themselves outside of markets, having been transformed into petty commodity producers with many households depending upon some degree of off-farm earnings (Bernstein 2001; Araghi 1995). Others, however, claim that ‘de-peasantization’ is far from inevitable, and stress that peasants continue to persist with varying relations to markets, still constitute a large share of humanity, and are actively fighting to defend their livelihoods (Ploeg 2009; Borras and Edelman 2008; McMichael 2006). At the broadest level, this dissertation explores contemporary struggles facing Haitian peasants in the belief that while they face extremely adverse circumstances, their continuing decline is far from inevitable. On the contrary, this dissertation is premised on the conviction that improving the livelihoods of peasant farmers is fundamental to reducing poverty and food insecurity in Haiti. More specifically, the papers in this dissertation explore various key aspects of Haiti’s agriculture and food system, including dietary aspirations, an intensifying agro-export push, and competing visions for rural development in the wake of the disastrous 2010 earthquake. Individually and collectively, considerable attention is given to some of the enduring legacies of the colonial period, and the interconnections between race, class, and food, while being sure to situate the cultural dimensions of peasant problems in their political economic context. This includes focusing heavily on the role played by dominant ‘development’ actors in Haiti (the foreign donor community; NGOs; the state; transnational corporations; domestic agribusinesses and merchant elites) and their relations with peasants in the post-earthquake period. The foundation of this dissertation is extensive field research conducted between November 2010 and July 2013 in a commune in Haiti’s Artibonite Department, the most important food producing part of the country. Field research involved a range of qualitative methods, including interviews, focus groups, and participant observation. My hope is that this dissertation offers a rich, deeply grounded contribution into some of the most crucial issues influencing agrarian change and food security in Haiti today, and provides valuable insights into agrarian change and peasant livelihoods and struggles in Haiti and beyond.

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Privilege in Haiti: Travails in Color of the First Bourgeois Nation-State in the Americas

Who are the elites in the poorest country of the Western Hemisphere? Do Haiti’s elites constitute themselves in a Blackness vs. Whiteness/Mulattoness opposition? In investigating these questions, this ethnography encompasses in the object of study the nation’s middle classes educated in Western ways, and it arrives at an analysis of social relations among privileged national subjects within and across boundaries of color. Its central thesis is the material unity in privilege of Haiti’s colorist fragments. Noirisme, a fundamentalist strain of Haitian black nationalism that reached hegemony in the dictatorship of François Duvalier in the 1960s, is in marked retreat in contemporary Haiti. Its lingering influence nonetheless continues to foster a black qua black sociality among privileged black nationalists. Mulatto nationalism, as political project and public discourse, lapsed into irrelevance sometime around the mid-point of the 20th century. Mulâtrisme, the ensemble of presumptively mulatto worldviews, is reduced today to an obsessive measurement and reproduction of approximations of whites’ somatic features, and arrives at a mulatto qua mulatto sociality. Notwithstanding the political instrumentality of the colorist fragmentation, through competencies in Western cultures, the fragments recover societal cohesion in the reproduction of privilege, and in colorist thought and action, over against the interests of the vast monolingual poor Creole-spekaing majority. The analysis sees one effect of the fragmentation in the rupture of a potential moment of liberal politics in the privileged classes at the boundary of color.

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Imagining Haiti: Representations of Haiti in the American Press during the U.S. Occupation, 1915-1934

Throughout the United States occupation of Haiti from 1915 to 1934, the U.S. government and its supporters were forced to defend the legitimacy of American action. In order to justify it to the American public, officials and journalists created a dichotomy of capacity between an inferior Haiti and a superior U.S., and they presented the occupation as a charitable civilizing mission. This vision of Haiti and Haitians was elaborated in a racialized discourse wherein Haitians were assigned various negative traits that rendered them incapable of self-government. In examining how the New York Times, the National Geographic Magazine, and the Crisis represented Haiti, I demonstrate how race was the primary signifier, and how these representations were used to either perpetuate or challenge the American racial social hierarchy.

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