Both nations were affected by European imperialists who used slave labor in order to build the sugar industry in Hispaniola. Spain, which controlled the Dominican Republic, switched from sugar production to cattle production. The slaves in the Dominican Republic were put to work as ranchers and enjoyed a better quality of life than slaves in Haiti. Over time, Dominican slaves intermarried with the Spanish. For generations, many residents of the Dominican Republic viewed themselves as more European than they did African. The founders of the Dominican Republic are depicted with European-style facial features. Until the 1960s, it was not uncommon for people of the Dominican Republic to view themselves as "Indios" and to view people who claimed African roots as inferior. They looked down on Haitian migrant workers and African culture in general, even though they had more in common genetically with the Haitians than they did Europeans. In the past, racism in the Dominican Republic has been handled by not seeing oneself as African.
Haiti embraces its African culture through vodou and celebrating the black leaders who led to the country's freedom in 1804. Haiti has had poor relations with the European West. Britain, France, and the United States would not recognize the first successful slave revolt in the Western Hemisphere. Thomas Jefferson referred to the island as a "republic of cannibals." Jefferson was also a slaveholder; therefore, he had a reason to be alarmed about slave revolts. France made Haiti pay for its freedom to the point of bankrupting the island. The United States occupied the island for nineteen years starting in 1915 and placed the Marines in charge of ensuring that France and American debtors were paid even though conditions in Haiti were terrible. By embracing and celebrating its African past, Haiti was penalized more and even today remains the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.