If there is one truth mixed people may encounter earlier than others, it is that forming one’s identity can be a difficult process, and can be a recurring problem during your entire existence. For instance, it is common knowledge that identity is strongly constructed through representation. Too bad, because identifying yourself as a mixed person can be a pain in the ass. It is the absence of models. It is confronting yourself to people who will deny you, your complexity and identity, often with the underlying correlation that one race is superior to all others (« Mixed? You mean black. No need to complicate everything »). Identifying as a mixed person is a long journey. It is going from anger to indifference – or even to a sassy and condescending answer – when it comes to reacting to the previous matter. Indifference may occur, because you know who you are and do not need anyone to acknowledge it. Practically, it can manifest itself in a lot of ways. It is being proud of your extremely rebellious and messy hair. It is loving your skin – even in Winter, when you look like a syphilitic panda . It is fangirling over your freckles. Nevertheless, happily wandering on the bright path of self love and identity acceptance is quite difficult without the help of positive representation (with regard to the damages of negative representation, see this famous test).
Too bad for me, positive representation is not something that you often run into in France. But with a little push of Internet’s magic, I finally ended up on Mixed Girl Problems, a melting pot community of over 22 000 Twitter followers. Thanks to this account, I discovered girls like me even though different in other ways ; girls who shared with me the same troubles that I never shared with anyone before, and made me reflect on my own relationship to my cultural/ethnical heritage; girls who were using humor as a weapon against the narrow-minded and who never surrendered to the facility of “choosing a side”. After some years of following, I finally reached out to Donnis, Holly admin of the Mixed Girl Problems bubble. On Instagram and Tumblr, she posts pictures of her followers in order to promote “mixed-racing” in all its diversity. On Snapchat, she answers even the most stupidquestions about being mixed race with some funny and quite insightful videos. On Twitter, she posts sassy and funny memes about problems that mixed people have to face (let’s get real here, there is one undeniable advantage about being mixed: you can legitimately make fun of all the sides composing your ethnicity). She agreed to answer our questions below.
Hello Donnis. First, could you present yourself?
Hey there! My name is Donnis. I currently reside in Atlanta, Georgia. My mom is from Bermuda and she is Caribbean and Irish. My dad is from New York like me, he is African American, Native American and Cuban. So I am a happy mixture of all!
Why did you create Mixed Girl Problems? What were the initial motivations and goals?
I actually did not create mixedgirlproblems! The original founder actually reached out to me and a few other followers to see if we wanted to take over. I was happy to since I have been following the Twitter page for years. I was honored she asked because I have never met her or seen her face. She was anonymous. My goal is for us to be more aware, to laugh at ourselves, to accept ourselves. I want something for us to relate to as mixed girls. Not something that only one side of me can relate to.
if I may ask, where are you from? How was it growing up mixed-race?
I am originally from Long Island, New York but grew up partly there and in Virginia. I went to college in North Carolina and I have also lived in DC. I love to travel. It’s hard to explain but I felt like I didn’t grow up as « mixed race ». Kids pressured me to choose a side a lot. I knew kids who told me: « Just say you’re Black » ! Others would say: « But you’re so light skinned so there’s gotta be white in there somewhere ». Once they saw me as both, not a lot accepted me. I was reallly shy so sitting with the black kids or the white kids at lunch caused me anxiety. Kids made fun of my freckles, they said I thought I was all that because my hair was long. I’m glad I’m grown up.
How did your relationship to being mixed-race evolve? For instance, did you always identify yourself as mixed-race or is it something that you somehow built/realized over the time?
I always knew I was mixed. I grew up listening to Native American music because our family finds it very important to be connected to that side of us. But we didn’t get to participate in a lot of activities like pow wow’s and ceremonies. I would always say I’m Black but I’m also other stuff. I found I got less side eyes that way. But now I say I am mixed and I am proud of EVERYTHING I am mixed with.
Is there some people, some books or some pieces of art that inspired you or made you reflect on being mixed-race?
Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of media about being mixed or identifying as mixed or growing up mixed. To be honest, this Twitter page, that I am now in charge of, has helped me become more confident in identifying that way. I want this page to be like that for others too.
How do you generally react when people ask you « what’s your mix »?
I actually don’t mind that question. I’ll state what I am and keep it moving. Its the « What are you? » question like I’m not human or something.
What type of advice would you give to « not mixed people » when they want to approach a mixed person about this subject?
It shouldn’t be the first thing you ask someone to be honest. I know your curiosity is killing you but some of us get turned off by it. Some of us don’t but it’s usually too late when you ask the wrong person. If you think they are mixed and you don’t know them, so what? Keep it moving. We dont want to be grilled or treated like an exotic creature in the zoo. All the questions get tiring and borderline racist, almost EVERY TIME.
Institutionally in France, we refuse the concept of race – it’s actually regarded as offensive when used for human beings (mixed-race is « métisse ») -. I guess in the States one might call it « color blindness ». What do you think about this?
I agree and disagree with it. Race is a social construct that was made to oppress and to keep anyone that isn’t White separate. So if someone doesn’t believe in race because of that, I agree. But I feel after all the wars, hundreds of years of slavery, oppression, racism, all the murders here in America, it is too late to say we are all one race. The damage has been done. We call this being color blind, yes. But people who say this are mostly White and it’s an excuse for them to not see us as we want to be seen, if that makes sense. I want all of us to be accepted. Accept our dark skin. Accept our afro’s. Accept our cultures. Don’t act blind to it. I feel it’s a cop out.
Did you think that mixedgirlproblems would reach so many people?
Before I became the moderator, I saw that it was growing really quickly. I was proud. Happy. Other girls are like me. Now that I am moderating the page, its a joy to see people who relate to me and what I post. The follower number grows (and drops) every day. I’m happy that I can reach so many people.
What types of questions do you have the most from people following you?
A lot of girls ask me, I am this and this, am I mixed? Or I have a great grandparent that was White, can I claim to be mixed? Those questions are hard because I’m not their family member and it’s not my place to say if they’re mixed or not. I also get a lot of hair questions, natural hair questions.
Do you sometimes receive offensive comments on mixedgirlproblems? Do you have examples?
Oh yeah, I’ll post girls on the Instagram page and some ignoramus will say they’re not mixed or they just look White to me. I delete those. I have seen some racist things. I delete them as soon as I see them. I got a really long letter on Tumblr one time from someone whose opening line was « why do you think all people hate on mixed girls? you all ain’t all that! » and proceeded to hate on us! Lol! I’m like you just proved our point. We are not bragging that we get so much shade, but people think that’s the way it is.
There are a lot of « issues » surrounding hair for mixed people. Why is that in your opinion?
Those Eurocentric standards are affecting the whole world and it’s sad. Historically, here in the US, during slave days, Black and Mixed women were not allowed to wear their hair natural. They would put flowers and oils in their hair and it was distracting for men, so it was basically a law that they had to tie their hair up. Those ramifications still hurt us today. We stopped embracing our natural hair and when we do, people think it’s « unprofessional », which pisses me off. Also, we have different textures in our hair and it can be hard to find the right products. We literally have to train our hair, but a lot of us don’t know how to start.
What’s the next step for mixedgirlproblems?
For now, I am doing it for fun. But I would like to make YouTube videos about being mixed, maybe start a podcast and ask questions like these to mixed celebrities. I have found that a lot of celebrities I know and love are mixed and never knew. There is also a Mixed festival in LA. I would love to go. If this could help me travel more, bravo!!!
From when you were younger to now, did you see/experience an evolution in the way mixed people are treated socially, by the media, in your daily life?
I feel like we are still being treated like exotic animals. In the media, we are seen as the best friend. But lately, more TV shows here are casting more men and women of color and a few shows have touched on the struggles of being mixed over the last year or so. The first time I saw something dedicated to that was a film called Light Girls. I really related to it and was excited about it.
If you had one piece of advice to give to a mixed person going through identity trouble, what would it be?
No one can pick your identity for you. If you say you are Black and White, someone will say, well you are still Black though. Fine. Whatever. It will hurt. But they don’t know better. Hopefully we can find a way to explain it, hopefully years from now people will be more open to people who have more than one racial identity. Keep your head high. Be proud of who you are. Research where your family comes from. No one can take that from you!