When I arrived in New York for the first time in 2014, I was thrilled to live in Washington Heights. The neighborhood filled with street vendors, Spanish food and cars blasting not just Bachata but Hip Hop music, reminded me of home. Living 3,000 miles away from Los Angeles was difficult yet I found solace between lower Manhattan and Inwood. Although the population in Los Angeles is predominately Mexican I was excited to be introduced to Dominican culture and astonished to find out that so much of their history, physical characteristics and culture had been a part of my own. However, although I immediately felt a connection to the Dominican community, I learned quickly how much they fight to separate themselves from any associations with Blackness. As I began to teach as well as visit nail/hair salons in the Heights, the conversations I heard blew my mind.
70% of my students are Dominican and I noticed that they’d “jokingly” make comments about each other’s complexion, hair and what they deemed to be broken English. Throughout my first two years of teaching I even saw how some parents helped to reinforce this separation; one parent came to the school yelling loudly at her daughter after a parent meeting for behavioral concerns saying, “I told you to stay away from those black girls,” while in passing I heard a woman in conversation discussing how offended she was when someone called her Black “It’s not the same, like we are not black, we are Dominican. It is so frustrating …. we shouldn’t be compared.” Aside from adjusting to being away from home, it was fairly difficult to live in a predominantly Dominican neighborhood and teach predominantly Dominican children only to find out they’d internalized racism so much they’d much rather me respond with “I’m Dominican” rather than “I’m Black,” when they ask me, ¿de dónde eres? Like my response is supposed to be anything other than “Soy afroamericano.”I have to admit that it took me awhile to process their detachment but once I reflected, I understood it.
As Black people, we have one of the most appropriated cultures in society. Errrbody and dey momma tryna sound like us, dress like us and talk like us but they not tryna be us though. To be Black is to live in a reality in which the constructed myth of your inferiority can suffocate you into despair.
Shit gets real and it is much easier to assimilate if you can.
Some find ways to assimilate through schooling or work, however, others adhere to European standards of beauty which help to continue the myth of White superiority and inflict further issues of inferiority on people of color:
Ya hair curly, perm it mama
Eyes too dark? Drop them contacts in
Ya skin light, you blessssseeed
Ya skin dark, say you Spanish but never Black or Haitian
I get it. However, as a teacher of both Black and Latinx students there’s no way that I could prevent tackling this subject with my students. I just didn’t know how and then I learned of the Bloody Massacre in 1937 and I knew where to begin. The Parsley Massacre was committed against Haitians who lived on the borderline between Haiti and DR in 1937. The then president or dictator (depending on who you ask) Rafael Trujillo, committed an act of ethnic cleansing of Haitians in October of 1937. Yes, the month in which two weeks are held as Hispanic Heritage Month, contains a bloody history that all students should know (I guess the NY Board of Regents haven’t deemed it Global History worthy) but probably don’t. Trujillo used two specific forms of criteria to determine who he wanted to kill: skin tone and accents. If members of the community were “dark enough” to be Haitian or couldn’t correctly pronounce the “r” in perejil, they were killed. How many? I have no idea of the exact number. The total number of Haitians killed in the massacre is about as accurate as the total number of slaves brought over to build America. Everywhere I looked the numbers were different. After visiting Wikipedia and seeing that they provided a range from 537-12,166 killed, I knew there were more than I could imagine. According to NPR/www.latinostudies.org 20,000 Haitians were killed between October 2, 1937 – October 8, 1937.
Whatever imperialist or colonial/Columbus type spirit inspired Trujillo must of resurrected once I moved to New York because in 2015 the government in Dominican Republic began to implement new protocols for immigration that many felt specifically targeted Haitians. I remember this and although we talked about it as a staff I didn’t talk about it with any of my U.S. or Global History students. My philosophy of teaching has changed since then. My new consciousness comes with a conscious that won’t let me be silent anymore. So even though I am a South Central bred, West coast rapper defender with skin low key yellow as the sun, I’ve created a lesson to talk to my New York born or immigrated Dominicans/Latinxs students about their Blackness. To clarify, I do not want them to separate themselves from their identity as Dominicans, I simply want to explore the concept of why they distance themselves from being associated with dark skin, curly hair and the strength of a people enslaved/discriminated against and denied humanity.
The lesson which I’ll complete before October 12th (hold me accountable) will be focused on discussing the “cleansing” and students perception of themselves as well as others. The timing is appropriate because I’ll be able to insert this lesson into their introductory weeks of my Woke Cypha unit right after they create their I AM poems and identity circles as well as discuss what they value. It will be a great transition and I will guide it the best I can. As with any lesson, I must have a target goal. This lesson is solely meant to introduce the massacre to students and have them use it as an event that provides a point of reflection on their own self-hate and ways in which the media can help to reinforce this hatred toward themselves as well as others..
I’m not Dominican but I am Black and proud enough to engage in conversation with individuals at all ages on what Blackness is and what it means when communities of color engage consistently in self-hate due to the internalized value of Eurocentric forms of beauty and ideologies. At times I’m concerned that I may not know how to direct the conversation or that parents may become infuriated with the topics that are explored in my advisory / U.S. History courses. I’ve met parents who are on both sides, just like teachers. Some want their children to be taught the test. They recognize the value of college readiness scores and focus their efforts there, however, others are more concerned with their child learning about history from a perspective that includes their culture as well. This difference was confirmed during last weeks Back to School Night when a parent asked me and my co-teacher what history of Blacks in America was included in the text for the year while other parents heard we were teaching, “A People’s History” and didn’t ask further questions. The argument of whether I as a teacher should be the connecting point for students to learn about their culture outside of “teaching to the test” is debatable amongst my colleagues but not for me. There’s no questioning my purpose. In the coming weeks I seek to become that bridge. Critical and courageous conversations must happen not just with staff but students as well. This lesson and my upcoming unit are a great way to start.
I might make a few adjustments later this week but currently the lesson structure is as follows and may feature some of these articles and/or videos:
Objective: Students will be able to explain the significance of the Parsley Massacre & reflect on how they communicate ideologies that their ancestors may have had due to this event.
Skills: Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media in order to address a question, solve a problem or reflect/discuss on one’s point of view
Do Now| How do you define Blackness?
Do Now| Unite the Right Torch March – How do you feel about this event/images? Why does this march have to deal more than with Black people in America? How could this directly affect your career, college and/or future prospects?
Review | Annotation Protocol
Independent | The Bloody Massacre
Group Work | Discussion
- How could “The Bloody Massacre” have contributed to how your grandparents/parents felt about Haitians and/or Blackness?
- Based off this event, what fears come with being identified as Black in DR?
Speaking w/ Intent – What does it mean to speak hate for yourself / as well to others?
Malcolm X: Who Taught You to Hate Yourself?
- Although you may not identify as Black does his speech relate to the way you communicate with each other?
I’ll let you know how it goes.