Black behind the Ears is an innovative historical and ethnographic examination of Dominican identity formation in the Dominican Republic and the United States. For much of the Dominican Republic’s history, the national body has been defined as “not black,” even as black ancestry has been grudgingly acknowledged. Rejecting simplistic explanations, Ginetta E. B. Candelario suggests that it is not a desire for whiteness that guides Dominican identity discourses and displays. Instead, it is an ideal norm of what it means to be both indigenous to the Republic (indios) and “Hispanic.” Both indigeneity and Hispanicity have operated as vehicles for asserting Dominican sovereignty in the context of the historically triangulated dynamics of Spanish colonialism, Haitian unification efforts, and U.S. imperialism. Candelario shows how the legacy of that history is manifest in contemporary Dominican identity discourses and displays, whether in the national historiography, the national museum’s exhibits, or ideas about women’s beauty. Dominican beauty culture is crucial to efforts to identify as “indios” because, as an easily altered bodily feature, hair texture trumps skin color, facial features, and ancestry in defining Dominicans as indios.
Candelario draws on her participant observation in a Dominican beauty shop in Washington Heights, a New York City neighborhood with the oldest and largest Dominican community outside the Republic, and on interviews with Dominicans in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Santo Domingo. She also analyzes museum archives and displays in the Museo del Hombre Dominicano and the Smithsonian Institution as well as nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century European and American travel narratives.
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"Ginetta E. B. Candelario's "Black behind the Ears" argues compellingly that any serious effort to understand Dominican ideas and practices of race in the ancestral homeland as well as in the diaspora requires a large conceptual framework, a triangular geography of knowledge, and a cultural history formed by Dominican nation-building projects, the difficult plight of the Haitian Republic in the midst of a negrophobic world, the impact of U.S. racial thought, and the Latin American glorification of the Hispanic heritage. Candelario's book remarkably dares to bring apparently disparate discursive sites to interact convincingly and engagingly in her analysis. The author renders facile readings of the Dominican chapter of the black experience in the Americas as exceptional or pathological simply unsustainable. She shows instead that it invites White Americans, African Americans, and other Latinos to revisit long-held assumptions about racial categories, ethnic identity, nationality, and the ideologies behind taking the 'visible' for 'real' in matters of race."--Silvio Torres-Saillant, coauthor of "The Dominican Americans"About the Author:
Ginetta E. B. Candelario is Associate Professor of Sociology and Latin American and Latina/o Studies at Smith College.
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