Meet: Joanna Thompson

Bold. Intelligent. Confident.

Joanna T. and I had the pleasure of meeting in the Chicago Cultural Center for my first “Out Of The Box” interview on a damp windy city Friday earlier this month. The Criminology, Law and Justice instructor and PhD candidate is vibrant and trying to warm up from the cold. We’ve circled in the same multiracial communities via Swirl Nation blog and Facebook communities, but have never formally met so I’m excited to make her acquaintance in person.

I explain that this specific part of the series via my blog will focus on highlighting diverse and multicultural individuals/businesses/entrepreneurs/social media expanding the conversation of mixed race and diverse people. Joanna’s enthusiasm for mixed race communities has not only been evident in her writings, but as I soon come to learn is a critical component to her PhD education.


How did growing up in Maryland impact your perception of race/interracial relationships?

“Growing up in that’s so diverse. To be honest I never really thought about the differences between race and ethnicity because I always had friends who were from everywhere. Not just the US, my best friend growing up was from Yemen. I knew people from different countries, part of that could be the proximity to D.C. so their diplomats and politicians. For me being in school and being with my friends, we were the United Nations. We were just a bunch of different people from different places.

 The number of diverse educators diminishes the further up the ladder you go in higher education. Have you encountered any setbacks being mixed-race? Any surprises?

“Yes. Definitely a lot of setbacks.  My research in general when I first started (2012) and came up with my idea to focus on mixed-race in general whatever connection to criminology I could make I got a lot of push back from people who didn’t think there was any connection. Whether it was violent crime or just specifically I studied bullying/harassment and that should be obvious are being bullied and harassed because of their racial identity.

Unfortunately, a lot of people within academia who are white and older didn’t see it as a problem. The past few years I’ve been trying to get myself out there so people could see this is a problem. As you said the further and further you get up the ladder there’s less people who look like you, who can support you and no sense of belonging. You always feel like the outcasts. That’s a setback but it’s also a motivator.

It’s exciting and surprising to see people who have never thought about mixed-raced and racial identity development and what means or looks like to be intrigued by it. I’m the only mixed person (black and Spanish) in my department…so for me to always say I’m mixed. I’m not just black or Nicaraguan. I’m always both all the time, every day. People always force you to pick one or the other. They don’t want you to be both.

Do you feel mixed-race studies are being researched more in higher education with the increase of multicultural families or there’s still more work the be done?

“I definitely think there’s still more work to be done. In the critical mixed-race studies world, it’s focused on a specific type of mix (ex: black/white or Asian/white). There’s so many voices and experiences that aren’t being pumped into the research. It’s great we have a home in terms of critical mixed-race studies, but it’s still not as diverse as what mixed-race is.

We can’t assume a black/white person will have the same experiences as black/Mexican person. There’s a whole culture and side that is not seen.  For me I think about it as if you’re the "majority" and a "minority" it is different than being compromised of two minorities.

Did you come from a background that promoted unity of both cultures or did you identify more strongly with one over the other?

Both of my parents to this day emphasized that I am both. I can never be just one or the other and to be proud of both. It’s why I’m so adamant about using the word mixed or multiracial now. My parents always reinforced that in me. You want to listen to black music or go dance bachata- you do whatever you want to do. Remember you need both. You are both.

What are your thoughts on mixed race individuals who choose to only self-identify with one culture?

I think it’s for a few reasons. Within my research the one common theme is people only growing up with one side. They are aware of their other culture but it’s invisible to them because they never knew it or experienced that culture. Another reason is because it’s easier. We live in a world where it’s easier to choose one box and stay in that box because if we choose multiple boxes, people are going to question us. You don’t have to explain “Who you are” to people or answer questions.

Joanna is leading the way as multiracial woman in the world of higher education fighting for more research and critical studies of mixed-race individuals. I look forward to seeing how she expands the world of higher education for mixed-race people. Keep an an eye out for her writing on amazing platforms like  Swirl Nation Blog. I would also like to wish her blessed and Happy 29th Birthday!