Black behind the Ears

Dominican Racial Identity from Museums to Beauty Shops

Black behind the Ears

Book Pages: 360 Illustrations: 37 b&w photos, 9 tables Published: December 2007

Caribbean Studies, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, Theory and Philosophy > Race and Indigeneity

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.


Black behind the Ears is a fascinating, richly documented, and innovative exploration of racial, ethnic and national identity formation in the Dominican Republic and among the Dominican diaspora in the United States. . . . In exploring the paradoxes of Dominican ethno-racial identity so creatively, Candelario has produced a fascinating template for scholars and students of race, ethnicity and national identity in general.” — Sherri Grasmuck, Contemporary Sociology

“A nuanced historical and ethnographic examination of the social construction and representation of racial identity in the Dominican Republic and United States. … Candelario’s work in this area is pathbreaking . . . Her ethnographic research on Washington Heights’ beauty shops is indispensible for gender specialists interested in how race and gender are mutually constituted.” — Tomas Almaguer, Gender & Society

“[A] stimulating book. . . . Candelario breaks new ground with her analysis of racial formation in Dominican communities in the United States . . . . [Black Behind the Ears] should be widely read by historians, anthropologists, and sociologists in the fields of Latin American and Latina/o studies.” — Frank Andre Guridy, Hispanic American Historical Review

“[A]n important contribution to our understanding of the way that racial and national identities are created and interpreted. Candelario’s work shows that these processes occur in numerous public sites and not just in individual experiences.” — Wendy D. Roth, Canadian Journal of Sociology

“[G]roundbreaking. . . . Black Behind the Ears is a well-researched analysis of the cultural sites through which various actors produce racial understandings in relation to national discourses. It is an important contribution to the study of race, gender and national identity within the Dominican Republic and its US-based migrant communities.” — Takkara Brunson, Bulletin of Latin American Research

“Candelario very effectively penetrates and explains local perceptions of race and explores the nuances and complexities of Dominican racial ideas and practices as they have changed over time. . . . Candelario’s account is exceptionally rich because it considers Dominican racial ideas and practices from a range of social locations. . . . This beautifully written, highly nuanced and powerfully argued intervention greatly advances our understanding of Domincan race. . . .” — Robin Derby, EIAL

“Candelario’s text is an important contribution to sociological understandings of race, gender, the body, beauty culture, and identity construction. It stands alongside the best texts in these areas.” — Ingrid Banks, American Journal of Sociology

Black behind the Ears provides an extensive and insightful analysis of the history of Dominican racial identity both in the Dominican Republic and in the United States. . . . While the entire volume including the notes is nearly 300 pages, it is quite readable, making it ideal to assign in undergraduate or graduate courses on race and ethnicity or performance. The book is exemplary for the way in which it demonstrates that the category of race is discursively ascribed while also showing how self-perceptions of race move between internalized and externalized discourses of identity. Finally, Black behind the Ears provides model scholarship for shaping and effecting such an inquiry.” — Jade Power, e-misférica

“In this accessible and masterfully crafted study, Ginetta E. B. Candelario examines the complex, contradictory, and countervailing historical processes that have shaped Dominican national identity since the nineteenth century until the present day. . . . Candelario’s analysis, suitable for use in any undergraduate classroom, is a significant contribution to the study of race and national identity in the Dominican Republic. It is a work that establishes a new standard of historical and sociological inquiry.” — April J. Mayes, Caribbean Studies

“With this book we are taken deeper into the complicated world of Latinidad--both in its abstract cogitations and its grounded, experienced reality. . . . Candelario’s book is an important contribution to the field of Latino studies.” — Anani Dzidzienyo, Latino Studies

Black behind the Ears makes important contributions to our understanding of the Dominican experience. In this book, Ginetta E. B. Candelario shows processes of identity formation among Dominicans in different historical and geographical contexts, and she looks at the nuanced relationship between ethnic and racial identities. In my opinion, this is one of the best books written on the subject of racial, ethnic, and national identity formation in general.” — José Itzigsohn, author of Developing Poverty

“Based on first-rate ethnographic and historical research, Black behind the Ears provides fresh and original insights into the construction and representation of racial identities in the Dominican Republic and the United States. It is the most comprehensive, focused, and balanced treatment to date of Dominican racial and gender ideologies in the United States.” — Jorge Duany, author of The Puerto Rican Nation on the Move: Identities on the Island and in the United States

“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


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Ginetta E. B. Candelario is Associate Professor of Sociology and Latin American and Latina/o Studies at Smith College.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Figures and Tables ix

Acknowledgments xi

Introduction. "We Declare That We Are Indians": Dominican Identity Displays and Discourses in Travel Writing, Museums, Beauty Shops, and Bodies 1

1. "It Is Said That Haiti Is Getting Blacker and Blacker": Traveling Narratives of Dominican Identity 35

2. "The Africans have No [Public] History": The Museo del Hombre Dominicano and Indigenous Displays of Dominican Identity 83

3. "I Could Go the African American Route": Dominicans in the Black Mosaic of Washington, D.C. 129

4. "They Are Taken into Account for Their Opinions": Making Community and Displaying Identity at a Dominican Beauty Shop in New York City 177

5. "Black Women are Confusing, but the Hair Lets You Know": Perceiving the Boundaries of Dominicanidad 223

Conclusion: "Black Behind the Ears, and Up Front, Too": Ideological Code Switching and Ambiguity in Dominican Identities 256

Notes 265

References 297

Index 323
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Winner, 2009 LASA Latina/o Studies Section Book Award

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4037-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4018-8
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