(Re)Framing Raza: Language as a Lens for Examining Race and Skin Color Categories in the Dominican Republic

The U.S. academy has a complicated relationship with the Dominican racial setting. Although scholars from diverse disciplines have examined race in the Dominican Republic for decades, the prevailing frame for analysis has been rooted in perceptions of exceptional negrophobia, xenophobia, and 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 analyzed these terms as a critical intersection of language and 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.

This dissertation 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 the analysis of archival documents, corpus data, surveys, and interviews in the Dominican Republic, the dissertation investigates the conceptual evolution of raza (≈‘race’) since the colonial period, engages popular understanding of what racial terms represent physically and socially, and explores the interaction between race and dominicanidad (‘Dominicanness’). This project offers a mixed methods approach for the examination of race that first analyzes how meaning is constructed for each term (in lieu of translation), and then empirically tests hypotheses regarding physical and social information via photo description questionnaires. As the dissertation explores the rich information contained in the language of race, it argues that the contemporary Dominican concept of race may be subdivided into several distinct paradigms that researchers cannot take for granted; that informed analyses must account for regional differences within the Dominican Republic; that fluidity in the categorical boundaries of descriptive terms should not be mistaken for confusion; and that the physical boundaries of dominicanidad may be surprising. With language as the lens, this project offers new methodologies for investigating race and proposes new frames for interpreting the results that significantly contribute to ongoing conversations on race in the Dominican Republic, Latin America, and the Western hemisphere.

To access the full dissertation, click on the blue *PDF* link below:

Full Dissertation: 498 pages (39.8MB) *PDF*

To access individual chapters / sections of the dissertation, click on the desired blue *PDF* link below:

Acknowledgements: 6 pages (86KB) *PDF*

Table of Contents: 5 pages (120KB) *PDF*

Chapter 1: Introduction: 10 pages (142KB) *PDF*

Chapter 2: Conceptual Framework: 22 pages (211KB) *PDF*

Chapter 3: From Colony to Republic: The Persistent Legacy of Racial Categories in the Dominican Republic: 46 pages (14.2MB) *PDF*

Chapter 4: Methodology: 55 pages (10.3MB) *PDF*

Chapter 5: ‘Our Way Is Like This’: Understanding the Internal Logic of the Dominican Racial System: 128 pages (980KB) *PDF*

Chapter 6: Shades of Meaning: Contemporary Physical and Social Parameters of Raza and Matiz Racial Terms in the Dominican Republic: 117 pages (11.1MB) *PDF*

Chapter 7: Delimiting Dominicanidad: Race, Region, and Notions of Typicality: 26 pages (1.8MB) *PDF*

Chapter 8: Conclusion and Implications: 11 pages (144KB) *PDF*

Once you have read the dissertation, I would love to know your thoughts. Please feel free to contact me at ewheeler [at] oakwood [dot] edu.