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 Dominicans 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 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.

Through a historically rooted examination of constructions of race and nation in immigration policies, censuses, and national identity cards, this dissertation asserts that immigration policies were designed to benefit the dominant sugarcane economy at the expense of migrants and thus state efforts in 2014 to address in documentation continued earlier discriminatory patterns, disproportionately impacting the Haitian diaspora. These practices are best understood as spectacles (De Genova 2013) that produce migrant illegality and, in particular, inherited illegality for Dominican-born children that violates their constitutional rights to citizenship. Furthermore, the state constructs the population as non-black while publicly undermining anti-racist organizing and this research find that activists draw on transnational images of blackness to challenge national representations of modern blackness. Identifying mestizaje and the colour continuum as obstacles to organizing, many activists conceptualize blackness as hypodescent, whereby any African ancestry engenders a Black identity. I argue that, while essentialist, this strategy broadens identification with Dominico-Haitians.