Johanna Yaovi

What’s your full name?

Johanna Yaovi

How old are you?

28

Where were you born/brought up?

I was born and bred in Paris.

What do you do for a living?

I am a marketing professional.

What’s your ethnicity?

My mum is half Beninese/Togolese and my dad was Italian and Polish.

How did your mum and dad meet?

On a tube platform in Paris.

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How old were you when you became conscious that people saw you differently? What impact did that have on you?

I was 5 or 6. My mother came to pick me up from school and friends my age started to ask me why my mother was darker than me. It was the first time I had to explain to people what being mixed-race is.

I don’t feel like it had an impact on me at the time, as I am pretty sure I saw it as an opportunity to share my “knowledge” with others.

 

 

Did you want to change your appearance when you were a child?

Definitely. I wanted the long blond straight hair and the light eyes.

Having the most beautiful dark-skinned mother didn’t encourage me to get closer to what she proudly represented. I just wanted to get closer to the ideal that was presented to me on a day-to-day basis, outside of my own household.

Describe your most memorable moments when you were made aware of being mixed race.

I remember that in secondary school there was this idea that being mixed was cool and valued, but only under certain conditions! You were the ‘good type’ of mixed race when you had light eyes, blond/golden straight hair (or very loose curls) and a curvy figure, that I assume was seen as a reminder of your blackness.

I had dark frizzy hair that I struggled to straighten, was quite tall for my age, and very skinny.This led people to tell me that I wasn’t the attractive type of mixed race but most importantly that I wasn’t black enough. As a people pleaser who started to believe in the “I am not black enough” mindset, I then started to define myself as mixed race instead of black. But when doing so, some of my black friends would ask me why I would say this - thinking that I was trying to brag about my mixed heritage.

Do you feel your parents prepared you for life as a mixed race person?

My mother really tried, yes. Reminding me that I was both black and white, that I shouldn’t forget my background and heritage even though one part of it was missing in our lives (my white dad). She tried her best but I believe that the mixed race experience isn’t something you can be prepared for, anyway.

What ignorant comments have you heard about being mixed-race that really rile you?

“You can’t say that you’re black, you are mixed race”.

People often feel entitled to tell you what you can or cannot be without considering your history or experience of life. Growing up, my mother’s culture was the mostdominant in the household. Logically, I grew up feeling closer to hers rather than my dad’s, which I didn’t have any link or connexion with.

I also remember that man who once told me how sad he thought my life was because I was mixed-race. He was convinced that I didn’t have any culture, any identity, that I was nothing. I am also used to the “you don’t need to tan, your colour is already perfect”. Does that mean that if I was darker, I wouldn’t look that great? How insulting is this? Not only to me but more specifically to dark-skin women in general.

What do you wish people who aren’t mixed-race understood?

That being mixed race isn’t all great and deprived of any struggle.

I believe we all have different experiences, some more painful than others. We should acknowledge them without looking for confrontation and without trying to highlight how worse yours is compared to mine. It won’t lead us anywhere.

Do you think mixed race people/families are well represented in the media?

Not really. Have you noticed that the representation doesn’t go further than white mother-black dad? The other way around is never showcased, and the representation of other types of mixed race family doesn’t really happen, or very rarely.

I am sure people can notice how diverse the society is, right? There is more than the black and white contrast.

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Back in the late 19th century/early 20th century being mixed race held a stigma, as it was clear proof of interracial relations which was seen as an affront to society’s morals. Do you think it’s easier nowadays to be mixed race or is it more that racism has become subtler?

This is definitely more accepted but it doesn’t mean that 100% of the work has been done.

Hearing that families nowadays are ready to disapprove an union because of the cultural difference, skin colour of another person makes me cringe.

Even though society is improving in regards to mixed race acceptance, many people still hold to their positions thinking that this is “impure” and controversial.

 

Is being mixed race a burden or a blessing for you?

I definitely see it as a blessing. Being mixed race is something that encouraged me to be more open minded on many topics, especially when linked to people’s own experiences of life.

Have you felt a struggle with your identity? If so, how did you deal with it and if you are now at peace with who you are, how did you come to a place of self-acceptance?

Even though I struggled for decades with my identity I am now completely fine with who I am. I identify as black, being totally aware and proud of my mixed heritage. Getting older simply helped me to pay more attention to my own feelings and perceptions rather than listening to what people have to say about me, my heritage and how I should define myself.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Pay more attention to who you are, who you want to be, without listening to what people have to say about you and the decisions you are making for yourself. You are your own person. Own it and be proud of it.

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