Race and Immigration in the Writings of Michele Wucker

Michele Wucker

Michele Wucker is Executive Director of the World Policy Institute, a nonpartisan center for “progressive global policy research.” Her writing is an interesting insight into what passes for thinking about race and ethnicity among contemporary mainstream American intellectuals.

Wucker’s social and racial history of the peoples of Hispaniola, Why the CocksFight: Dominicans, Haitians, and the Struggle for Hispaniola is an important indicator of how she sees immigration for the United States, a topic explored in her 2006 plea for open borders, Lockout: Why America Keeps Getting Immigration Wrong When Our Prosperity Depends on Getting It Right.

In Why the Cock Fights, Wucker artfully combines both the physical and the cultural anthropology of the indigenous peoples of Hispaniola, an island divided between  Black French-speaking Haiti and mulatto Spanish-speaking Dominican Republic. She describes the ethnic conflicts that have troubled that unfortunate island for centuries. The Dominicans finally won their independence from Haiti in 1844 after a 22-year brutal and corrupt occupation.

The dividing line separating the two peoples runs along Rio Massacre, so named because of the thousands of Haitians and Dominicans slaughtered at the border. In 1933 alone, the Dominicans massacred 25,000 Haitians on the river border.

Wucker sees the political and sociological situation on that perpetually troubled island as a continual cockfight enjoyed by both parties. Although cockfights are strictly in the male domain, Wucker manages to gain a true appreciation of the cockfighters (galleros), the arenas (galleras, gagaires), and even the triumphant strutting cock (gallo), and to convey that understanding and appreciation to her readers. Equally popular in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, the cockfights are highly symbolic of the cross-cultural violence between the two major population groups — the  Blacks of Haiti and the mulattos of the Dominican Republic.

Wucker has great respect for the peoples she discusses. For example, when referring to Haiti’s folk religion, a mixture of African animism and Roman Catholicism, she uses the spelling ‘Vodou’ to distinguish it from what she calls Hollywood’s grotesque portrayal of ‘Voodoo’. In depicting Vodou practices, Hollywood typically cannot refrain from including a scene in which the priest or priestess drives a needle into a doll image of an individual the priest intends to harm. In reality, the doll piercing is very much like Chinese acupuncture in which the practice is aimed at healing not harming the targeted area.

Likewise she uses the term ‘Kreyol’ when referring to Haiti’s language, better suggesting its origin as one of the group of languages called creoles and reflecting that they are a mixture of African and European languages. Language, Wucker observes, can be a divisive political force as on Hispaniola, or a unifying force as English is in the project of globalization.

However, the rough classification of Black and mulatto is an oversimplification. Both countries, initially at least, shared the same racial composition, consisting of French, Spanish, English, African, Arawak Indian and Taino Indian blood. Only after the African element revolted against their French rulers, first slaughtering all Whites and then most mulattos, did the complexion of Haiti darken.

Their racial histories are fascinating, reflecting their colonial beginnings, genocidal outbursts, and subsequent racial amalgamation. The peoples of Haiti classify each other by color, fluency in Kreyol and hair texture. Drawing upon the research of Dominican, French and French-Canadian scholars, Wucker provides a detailed racial history of Hispaniola. Particularly interesting is the obsessive detail with which race was categorized and how it influenced every aspect of life:

In the early 16th century, even before the Africans arrived, Nicolas de Ovando, the Spanish colonial governor, had forced many of the colonists to marry Indians. . . . Many of the men, according to Dominican historian Roberto Cassá, were already living with Taino women. In the late 16th century, desperate to keep up the dwindling Spanish population as a last defense against French and English aspirations to shrink Spain’s territory on Hispaniola, the colonial government went so far as to encourage White colonists to marry the former slaves. These mixed-race children were treated as Spanish and White, and brought up with a strong sense of Roman Catholic identity to strengthen their resolve in fighting off Protestant (English) invaders. . . .

Over the centuries, the racial lines within Dominican society blurred, and it became, as it still largely is, mulatto. . . .

As early as 1549, according to the Dominican historian Franklin J. Franco, Santo Domingo’s colonial government defined seven racial types:  Black, or “negro,” slaves brought from Africa; White, Spaniards; mulatto, offspring of  Black and White; mestizo, descended from Indian and White; tercerón, child of a mulatto and a White; cuarterón, child of a tercerón and White; and grifo, mixed Indian and  Black. There does not seem to be a term for tri-racial ( Black-White-Indian) hybrids.

In the early 1970s the Dominican sociologist Daysi Josefina Guzmán identified nine hair colors and 15 main kinds of hair texture on a spectrum between bueno (good) for soft, Caucasian hair and malo (bad) for kinky, Negroid hair. [Among these were] lacio for straight and smooth; achinado for straight, stiff hair; espeso, thick, abundant and very slightly wavy; macho, thick and strong, abundant but without luster; rizado, thick and fine with small waves but dull; muerto, thin and greasy; ondulado, wavy; vivo, thick, dry, and out of control; variable, indescribable; crespo, thick and frizzy; de pimienta, peppery, growing slow and tight to the skull in small balls; motica, like peppery hair but thin, wavy; and pegaíto, so close to the skull that it is impossible to comb. . . .

She identified 12 skin colors: lochoso, “too White,” like milk; blanco, White; cenizo, ashen; descolorido, “without color”; pálido, so pale as to appear sick, desteñido, jaundiced; pecoso, freckled; pinto, mostly light but with large freckles or moles; trigueño, light, with a very slight dark touch; manchado, dark, with light streaks; “negro,” very dark; morado, so  Black as to be “almost purple.” In addition, there were 10 facial structures, six physical types and five general racial types.

Each category could be used as a guide to where any Dominican stood on the social scale. . . . In the Dominican Republic, calling someone “Haitian” is on the surface synonymous with describing them as negro or morado, but with an added psychological weight of fear and hatred.

The early French colonists in Saint-Domingue identified 128 different racial types, defined quite precisely along a mathematical scale determined by simple calculations of ancestral contributions. They ranged from the “true” mulatto (half White, half  Black), through the spectrum of marabou, sacatra, quarterón, all the way to the sang-mêlé (mixed blood: 127 parts White and one part  Black. . . .

The sociologist Micheline Labelle has counted 22 main racial categories and 98 subcategories (for varying hair types, facial structure, color and other distinguishing factors) used among Haiti’s middle class in Port-au-Prince in the 1970s. Within each category, the words are often as imaginative as they are descriptive: café au lait (“coffee with milk”), bonbon siro (“candy syrup”), ti canel (“little cinnamon”), ravet blanch (“White cockroach”), soley levan (“rising Sun”), banane mûre (“ripe banana”), brun pistache (“peanut brown”), mulâtre dix-huit carats (“18-carat mulatto”). . . .

The decidedly darker complexion of the Haitians dates back to 1804, when dictator Jean Jacques Dessalines decided to slaughter all the “Whites” still residing in Haiti. Because some of the “French colonists” already had African blood, Dessalines devised a language test to weed out “Whites” that could pass for  Black on the basis of skin color. The test was simple and effective. Since the colonists spoke continental French, rather than Haiti’s Kreyol, suspected colonists were asked to sing a country tune containing the line, “Nanett alé nan fontain, cheche dlo, crich-a li cassé” (“Nanette went to the fountain, looking for water, but her jug broke”). The “French,” meaning anyone who gave himself or herself away when they could not reproduce the Kreyol sounds or African cadences of the melody, were summarily bayoneted.

After Toussaint had been removed, his successor Henri Christophe mimicked the vanquished French by crowning himself King Henri I, building a magnificent palace and the massive Citadele La Ferrière, and appointing Afro-Haitian dukes and lords to rule over his domain.

Haiti soon began its rapid descent from the richest colony in the Caribbean to the absolute poorest. Lothrop Stoddard, the once famed (now politically incorrect) American scholar whose views very much influenced the U.S. immigration law of 1924, described these early events in his famed The French Revolution in San Domingo, published in 1914 and now available online.

The same process of a nation’s unnecessary descent into chaos and poverty has been repeated in our own day in the case of Rhodesia, one of the most prosperous states in Africa. When most of the members of the government, who were of European origin, were expelled from the country because of the color of their skin, prosperous Rhodesia became basket case Zimbabwe. The UK, the USA, and the USSR then pressured South Africa to permit the  Blacks to govern that state. As of today over a million Whites have migrated out of the country, which is fast becoming a criminal state.

Early in World War II, President Roosevelt, to aid Jewish refugees from Europe without the need of Congressional consent, made a deal with Rafael Trujillo in which the Dominican leader agreed to take in Jewish refugees from Europe. Trujillo, who had just recently slaughtered about 20,000 Haitians along the Rio Massacre, was under the impression that by admitting the Jews he would be infusing new “White” blood into the Dominican racial stock. As it turned out, however, most of the Jews subsequently entered the United States, and the Dominican Republic remained mostly mulatto.

In recent years, U.S. President Bill Clinton was so captivated by the charms of a renegade priest, the defrocked Jean-Bertrand Aristide, that he used 20,000 U.S. troops to reinstate the expelled demagogue to power. It is not surprising, however, that today, despite an infusion of billions of American dollars, Haiti has returned to its natural state: chaos, lawlessness, postponed or phony elections, corruption, drugs, poverty and the rest. Consequently, as Wucker notes, in the last two decades one out of every eight Haitians and Dominicans has moved to and now resides in the United States. To this day, Clinton remains a friend to Haiti, helping it as best he can. Sadly, Haiti has not yet found a native leader, wise and strong enough to institute a just and effective government.

The French critic and playwright Aimé Césaire once described Haiti as follows:

Poor Africa! I say poor Haiti! It is the same thing. Over there, tribe, languages, rivers, the castes, forest, village against village, hamlet against hamlet. Here,  Blacks, mulattos, griffes, marabouts, what-have-you, clan, caste, color, defiance and conspiracy, fights between cocks, between dogs over a bone, the combat of fleas!

Wucker’s fine study of Hispaniola demonstrates the importance of ethnicity and ethnic conflict as very important determining factors in human affairs. The politics of the island have been one continual cockfight. But perhaps of even greater importance, she also shows the limits of racial analysis and the utter futility of attempting racial classifications based on simple surface appearances after miscegenation has progressed through several generations. Early racial studies were based solely on the color of the skin and hair texture. Modern DNA studies have provided a wealth of new information. 

By 2006, however, following two years at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs, Ms. Wucker has emerged a more “enlightened” person. Incredibly, in her second book, Lockout: Why America Keeps Getting Immigration Wrong When Our Prosperity Depends on Getting It Right, written in her new capacity as Executive Director of the World Policy Institute and advisor to the U.S. Government on immigration policy, Wucker disregards ethnicity entirely as a criterion for immigration. Despite the long history of ethnic violence on Hispaniola, Wucker proposes that the things Haitians and Dominicans share in common can lead to reconciliation. For example, she notes that there have been no reports of violent attacks since the recent earthquake. (Of course an earthquake would tend to take your mind off routine everyday squabbles.) Perhaps not coincidentally, after the publication of Lockout Ms. Wucker received a 2007 Guggenheim Fellowship.

The Institute describes itself as a progressive non-partisan source of informed leadership that develops and champions policies requiring a global point of view. The Institute appears to share the economic and social goals of globalization and operates under the Boasian dogma of racial equality. Ms. Wucker pleads that America not put any restrictions on further immigration. Despite the long history of racial conflict she so ably documents in Why the Cock Fights, she advocates — against all logic and common sense — that diversity need not be divisive in the long run.

Among other solutions for the resolution of possible conflicts resulting from diversity, Ms. Wucker suggests mongrelization. She first disingenuously identifies herself as a mongrel, pointing to her parents and grandparents as having spoken different languages and having lived in different parts of Europe. Then extrapolating wildly makes the completely unfounded statement:

Americans today are as proud of being mongrels as the higher classes of earlier Americans of British and German roots were of their “purebred” family trees. (Lockout, p. 219)

By turning up the heat under the melting pot and encouraging miscegenation, a mongrelized uniformity could indeed be achieved, but older Americans are not yet ready for it. More importantly, such a solution ignores the reality of racial differences in IQ and other valuable traits. A mongrelized population will inevitably be stratified by degree of admixture of genes from groups higher or lower on these traits. Only Draconian laws administered by a police state could possibly result in completely diluting all racial differences to the point where race becomes irrelevant as a way of classifying people. Wucker goes on and on about getting “the best and brightest” as immigrants as necessary for economic progress, but completely ignores the fact that in reality the vast majority of immigrants are uneducated and have low IQ — the sort of people who suck up public services rather than contribute to a modern economy.

But her greatest failing is her lack of appreciation of how massive non-White immigration is likely to lead to ethnic conflict and the Balkanization of America. The fact that immigrants from different parts of Europe did indeed manage to assimilate to America is no sign that this will continue into the future. The recent law in Arizona banning ethnic studies programs in public schools was motivated by the well-founded fear that such programs fuel hatred toward the White majority of America. Such programs are common throughout the American education system.

Far better is the advice of the quintessential American poet Robert Frost who once wrote that “good fences make good neighbors,” a sentiment that most older Americans understand and believe.

When Jean Raspail published his prophetic novel The Camp of the Saints in the 1960s, American liberal intellectuals called it hate literature. By the 1990s Raspail in his essay The Fatherland Betrayed by the Republic had to concede that his France was irretrievably lost and could never return. Without any popular mandate at all, the US government in the past half-century has been derelict in its responsibility to control immigration. As a result, the ethnic composition of the country has rapidly changed from predominantly European to a mixture of races. In effect, the country is being repopulated.

The consequences of this massive transformation are unknown. But if human history is any guide, the result will be a very large increase in ethnic conflict and a very perilous future for the traditional people and culture of America.

Daniel W. Michaels, a native New Yorker, received his BS in geography from Columbia University in 1954. Following five years in the Army (three of which stationed in Germany) and a Fulbright grant for studies in Tuebingen University, Mr. Michaels worked in the Defense Department until his retirement in 1993. He continues to contribute articles to various journals on World War II and Cold War matters. (Email him.)