Being DARK when Complexion Matters


There is ONE DAY before I leave for Hispaniola, but can I be honest about something? I have had some experiences in other countries that have made me a bit apprehensive about what the experience will be like doing this work in the Dominican Republic… especially when told that the Haitian women are treated a bit harsher than the Dominican women.

I already hear some saying, “Why are you even concerned with color?” or “It is only an issue if you make it one…” I would encourage you to expand your exposure to experiences broader than your own.

As I travel, I am finding that before I speak, people classify me. It happens in the U.S. as well, but it is different when I travel abroad. These experiences have spoken volumes to me about how I view myself, by the way… especially after growing up with people asserting how much continental “Africans don’t like African Americans.” One reason why I have embraced and emphasized the identifications that include “African” is because (while on the continent) before I opened my mouth, continental Africans embraced me as African and tried to figure out where I was from on the continent.

So far, my passport has been stamped in two countries: South Africa and Qatar. Gene and I traveled through Qatar last year on our way to South Africa and decided to spend the night. Gene IS ADVENTUROUS so he wanted to get out and walk around. I was noticeably the darkest melanated person outside of a gentleman working at the hotel.

I noticed that people looked at us a bit as we went in and out of stores. We went to what was the equivalent of a Currency Exchange to get some money because Gene wanted to go into shops and try some authentic food. We happened to be there during their prayer time, so we had to wait for the tellers to come back to their posts. We don’t speak Arabic, so it was quite the experience finding someone that could help us.

Anyway, when we arrived at a dessert parlor, Hadhim Dates & Treats, we chose our desserts and as the young man was checking us out he said to me, “You from Nigeria?” My husband explained briefly that we were from the United States. Hmmm… I began to understand that he saw my husband as one who may be from the area (somewhere in the Middle East), but saw me as an African. He assumed that my husband had gone and gotten him an African bride.

The next morning, we caught our flight and continued on to South Africa. Anyone who is familiar with South Africa’s racial classifications knows that there are people who may have the complexion of my husband or darker that are not classified as Black, but Coloured. (Coloured people are lighter complexioned or mixed race people, and had certain privileges Black Africans did not have during Apartheid.) That was a different experience for Gene. He was even told that he could identify as Coloured if he wanted to… He didn’t like that… It left him feeling out of sorts.

We even noticed that when Afrikaans people (and others considered white in South African) heard our “American accent,” they were enamored by it and us. They admired that we were from the United States. And before our eyes we watched these individuals change their interactions with us and begin to smile and treat us better than our South African family that was hosting us. We didn’t like that either. We are no different than Mama Maureen and our family that hosted us. We are the same people.

In both of these contexts in foreign countries, I understood that my deep complexion caused them to identify me as a Black African and my relationship with Gene as an interracial one.

I am not sure what context I am likely to face when I visit the island of Hispaniola. Hispaniola was the first island inhabited by European explorers and there is a unique dynamic that occurs there between the left one-third of the island and the right two-thirds of the island. Haiti is on the left side of the island and there is very little variation in skin tone compared to the Dominican Republic on the right side of the island which has been a country of people mixed with European, African, and Native American blood for centuries. Haiti and the Dominican Republic sit side by side on an island with histories as juxtaposed as the phenotypes of the people in the two countries. (Haiti has a rich history that influenced land acquisition in the U.S. that you can read about HERE.)

I wonder what THIS experience will be like for me… or will I experience anything noteworthy  at all? Will I be identified by my dark complexion and be classified based on the social contexts of the island of Hispaniola? Lol… I am sure they will know soon enough when I struggle to communicate beyond saying, “Mwen rele… Andrea…”

Still…
I am OPEN to this new experience.
I am OPEN to broadening my understanding about people and their cultures.
I am OPEN to learning more about myself and how I can best position myself in this world.

And I will let you know if being darker in complexion mattered for me in the DR, too.

Oh yeah… If you would like to contribute to the birth work I will be doing with Dominican and Haitian moms and babies, you can do so here –> http://www.drdoula.com/dr2017-donation1.html

I have almost reached my goal! Thank you for your support!

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