The power of whiteness: the Jews of Sousa and the unspoken Parsley Massacre

In my last post, “My Strange, Always Present, Jewish Whiteness,” I spoke about the reality of white privilege within my identity as a Jew, in light of recent news coverage following the deaths of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and countless other Black men who have lost their lives due to police force.

Through years of conversation with white people, from community action to casual discussions, I have noticed there is a fear people perceive in identifying their privilege. In realizing privilege, essentially what people fear most is feeling powerless and vulnerable. Unfortunately, because throughout our [Jews] own history we have endured such massacre, genocide, and discrimination, I believe many people of Jewish descent who appear white are unable to wrestle with the idea of white privilege for such reasons.

An important distinction not to be muddled with is that anti-semitism is not racism, as anti-semitism prosecutes against all Jewish people regardless of how they look or how many of their descendents are Jewish. For these reasons, my white privilege does not protect me against anti-semitism. While granted, I do look Jewish, I have the option of changing my name and blending in with the general grouping of white America. Yet, a person of color and/or a Jewish person of color does not have this option; they cannot take off or hide the color of their skin. Despite anti-semitism, white privilege still exists.

One of the strongest examples of this paradigm is the acceptance of Jewish refugees to the Dominican Republic in 1938, under leadership of Dictator Rafael Trujillo. All over Europe, as Jews were desperately looking to escape the Nazi regime, Trujillo volunteered to take upwards of 100,000 Jewish refugees into the Dominican Republic. However as Trujillo was helping Jews to escape their slaughter from Germany and Austria, just the year prior, he was responsible for the largest mass genocide of Haitian people known today as the Parsley Massacre.

In the fall of 1937, in the span of five days, up to 20,000 Haitians were killed by soldiers and civilians of Trujillo’s dictatorship regime. The murders were brutal with soldiers wielding rifles and machetes, killing those who attempted to flee Haiti and even Domicans who offered their help. The naming of the massacre originates from the test soldiers used to determine who was Haitian. While holding a piece of parsley, pronounced “perejil” in Spanish, guards and soldiers urged people to identify it. As Haitians spoke French and Creole, they pronounced parsley differently than as in Spanish, leaving them victims of slaughter by Trujillo’s men.

As Trujillo’s regime began in 1930, he operated to prevent the migration of Haitian laborers into the Dominican Republic, who often were seeking work in local sugar plantations. Hate and tension against Haitians had been building up for years as the Dominican elite had been holding high their Latin and Catholic roots to distinguish themselves from Haitian culture. It is clearly evident Trujillo wanted to exterminate the Black race from the island, brainwashed by ideals of European racism.

In 1938 President Roosevelt held a meeting with 32 nations to discuss how to resettle Jewish refugees often today referred to as, the Evian conference. Although due to anti-semitic feelings and immigration discrimination of the Depression Era, essentially no country volunteered to take more than a few thousand Jews, including the United States. Despite this, Trujillo volunteered to take 100,000 Jews away from persecution. Many say Trujillo offered this help in hoping Western nations would overlook his command of the Parsley Massacre, but truly it was to fulfil his mission to lighten the population of DR as he had previously sought through means of genocide.

With assistance from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the Dominican Republic Settlement Association (DORSA) was founded to help settle Jewish refugees, predominantly in Sosua, a small town located in Puerto Plata. There refugees were appointed land and cattle with hopes of creating an agricultural community, which still exists today, predominantly as a dairy factory. In the first year only 50 Jews had made their way to Sosua, but by 1941 the town had grown to a population of 500.

Even shortly after 1937, while Jews were permitted to enter, quotas restricted the amount of Haitians allowed to enter the Dominican Republic with a strict and often discriminatory border policy in effect. The relationship between Haiti and the Dominican Republic has remained scarred to this day. As recent as last year, Dominicans of Haitian descent but born in the Dominican Republic were stripped of their citizenship. The decision will impact all those who have immigrated from 1929 onwards, many who are children, and barely have ties to their origins of Haiti.

The conflict clearly displays the power of whiteness in our world and its ability to create divisions and distinctions upon the value of a human life. While a Black and white binary has existed for decades in the U.S., in many countries around the world such as Brazil, there are many dimensions of white and darkness. Even within communities of color there is an overarching favoritism of whiteness and light skin which must be acknowledged and challenged. For as long as this preferential treatment exists, we are forever disenfranchising Black communities (both psychologically and economically) while upholding a system of white supremacy on a global scale.

To be a person of Jewish descent, let alone a human being, and not recognize the injustices and oppression which haunt other groups of people, as similarly done to our own is simply inexcusable. No act of injustice should go unspoken or unheard of. It is crucial to never forget all acts of genocide equally as, “an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

About the Author
Eve Stern is a 25 year old writer based in NYC. She can be found buried in a Sunday New York Times, arguing over who is the next best rapper, or incessantly writing down new ways to change the world.
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