Forward and Interview by Carolina Meurkens, Photography by Joana Meurkens
In a society that values whiteness and one’s ability to approximate it, hair can be a battleground. When I approached Joana and Kimber with the idea of starting Mixed Mag, one of the things I was excited to tackle head on was hair. Something that is so intrinsically part of us, holds so much history, pain and the power to overcome it. Growing up in Brazilian culture, I noticed how the women in my family used hair as a vehicle to manipulate their appearance, to appear more white or more black depending on the texture of their hair and how they styled it. Where do our hair preferences and grievances come from? What does our hair tell us about our family history and our relationship to Blackness?
In this series, we interview and photograph women from different intersections of the African Diaspora, to get the root of their hair story. We ask them; what does your hair symbolize to you? First up is Rose, the NYC based multidisciplinary artist who approached Mixed Mag about creating this series. She lets her hair out and talks to us about her journey growing up as a mixed Dominican Jewish woman.
My identity is confusing and nuanced. All are, if you take the time and let yourself go there. I am mixed. Or biracial. I use both terms, I feel they fit me. I am more drawn to the term mixed because I feel it captures some of that nuance. Mixed with what background? It’s always so exciting to find out! The experience of a mixed person is so rich.
I am Dominican and Jewish. Although I was raised more culturally Jewish than Dominican, skin color is still something that separates me from my white & ashkenazi Jewish family. I have always been aware of looking different from my family, but I hadn’t had the language to talk about it until recently. I have not had a community to discuss my racial identity, given that I’ve been in academic institutions where the majority of students are white. I feel most welcome and interested in spaces with mixed people who also experience the nuance of what it means to not fully fit in either dominating space.
I reap the benefits of being white passing in certain spaces. But I also reap the benefits of having a highly complex and nuanced experience of identity, one that I am honored and honestly feel very privileged to carry.
Most of my friends are white, and often being the token POC in the group is a dynamic that has deeply affected me. They will never really understand or see things the way that I do. They can try to educate themselves, get out of their comfort zone, and make it a priority. But very few actually make that effort. And that is sad to me, because it sustains a barrier between what I can share with them, and what they are able to comprehend or even emotionally handle. I want to hold my friends to a high standard- I want to know that they are at the same level of understanding and fighting for racial justice as I am. I want to be sure that they understand their privilege, and if they don’t, to educate themselves outside of their own experience (past reposting on Instagram!). In my Instagram bio I have a link to an archive of Black revolutionary texts by black activists such as Bell Hooks, Audre Lorde, and Angela Davis (swoon) to name a few.
As early as elementary school, peers have gotten to shape my self image. I remember them praising me when my hair was straightened. Hair was (and still is) used as a barometer to approximate whiteness, and that is reflected back as social capital. Prejudice against oneself gets internalized so so so quickly and takes ages to unlearn.
Beauty and hair standards are rooted in white supremacy. I can’t even count the times folks say, “ugh my hair is just not good today.” I’d look at them and say, “well what makes it ‘good’ and what would ‘not good’ look like?” Their answer would always be “it’s just sort of frizzy” …Well, hair can be frizzy. Hair gets frizzy. Some people have frizzy hair. Many white people that I’ve come across who are under this influence are so conditioned to think negatively of their frizz. And that inherently is rooted in racism. I am working on unlearning this as well, and not bending around standards that I can’t even fill. Embrace the frizz 🙂