In the racial milieu of the Dominican Republic (as in America), skin color takes on significance beyond simple melanin. Blackness represents misfortune and poverty, whereas lighter skin tones symbolize success and wealth. Characters are warned not to get a tan for fear they will look Haitian (that is, black), and be treated with the disrespect that poor Haitians are awarded. Beli and Oscar, the two darkest-skinned characters in the novel, are each taken as ill omens by their families at birth. Many of the characters that the de León family encounter pity their color, because they think that black skin will lead to unhappiness. Even in the novels and popular culture that the characters consume, black skin is reserved for villains and monsters.
Yet the de León family themselves do not buy in to this color coding. Lola and Oscar refuse to apologize for their black skin, eventually coming to terms with their Dominican heritage despite the racism they encounter. As a young woman, Beli insists that her immense beauty is because of her blackness, rather than in spite of it. This alternate reading of blackness as power is supported by the Mongoose, a magical creature with pitch black fur that works for good in the universe of the novel. Thus, the novel reminds the reader that all symbolic meaning, such as the idea that black must stand for evil, is not based in reality and can be rewritten.
Blackness Quotes in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
The white kids looked at his black skin and his afro and treated him with inhuman cheeriness. The kids of color, upon hearing him speak and seeing him move his body, shook their heads. You’re not Dominican. And he said, over and over again, But I am. Soy dominicano. Dominicano soy.
a girl so tall your leg bones ached just looking at her
so dark it was as if the Creatrix had, in her making, blinked
who, like her yet-to-be-born daughter, would come to exhibit a particularly Jersey malaise—the inextinguishable longing for elsewhere.
…you could argue that the Gangster adored our girl and that adoration was one of the greatest gifts anybody had ever given her. It felt unbelievably good to Beli, shook her to her core. (For the first time I actually felt like I owned my skin, like it was me and I was it.)
That's the kind of culture I belong to: people took their child's black complexion as an ill omen.
He read The Lord of the Rings for what I'm estimating the millionth time, one of his greatest loves and greatest comforts since he'd first discovered it, back when he was nine and lost and lonely and his favorite librarian had said, Here, try this, and with one suggestion changed his life. Got through almost the whole trilogy, but then the line "and out of Far Harad black men like halftrolls" and he had to stop, his head and heart hurting too much.