(Re)Framing Raza: Language as a Lens for Examining Race and Skin Color Classification in the Dominican Republic
Eva Michelle Wheeler
New Mexico State University
The Dominican racial setting has for decades fascinated scholars from diverse disciplines. Until recent years, the prevailing frame for analysis was rooted in perceptions of exceptional negrophobia, exceptional xenophobia, exceptional confusion, and essential denial of “true” racial identity. Even as new studies position race in the Dominican Republic in a more complex social and historical context, narratives of Dominican exceptionalism and essentialism persist in academic and popular discourse. The narratives criticize Dominican reticence to identify as negro and audacity to claim to be indio. Some have argued that the country is mulato, certainly not blanco, and only marginally mestizo. Despite the centrality of racial terms to this conversation, few studies have positioned language as a primary concern for the examination of race in the Dominican Republic. Nevertheless, as analysis increasingly crosses cultural and linguistic borders, language emerges as a vital paradigm for the study of race. A new frame, that allows us to re-examine this complex question in a new light.
This presentation is part of a broader research project that employs linguistics as a lens through which to analyze Dominican race and skin color descriptors. These terms, some uniquely Dominican in usage, index, or ideology, correspond to local, socially-constructed norms and parameters of identity, and have evolved in meaning over nearly six centuries. Through analysis of archival documents, corpus data, surveys, and interviews in the Dominican Republic, the project investigates the conceptual evolution of raza (≈‘race’), engages popular understanding of what racial terms represent physically and socially, and explores the interaction between race and dominicanidad (‘Dominican-ness’). With language as the lens, this project offers new methodologies for investigating race and proposes new frames for interpreting the results that contribute to ongoing conversations on race in the Dominican Republic, Latin America, and the Western hemisphere.