Makeup. Film. Music. Fashion. Skincare. You name it, this girl does it and CRUSHES it.
I’m absolutely thrilled to be introducing my Amplify Black Artists series, where I’ll be interviewing and featuring some insanely talented Black artists from a variety of industries including dance, makeup, design, modeling, acting, etc. The series aims to promote the work, and more importantly, share the racial experiences of BIPOC within their respective industries to create awareness and drive action.
There is no one more deserving of this first feature, than the goddess of all things beauty and lifestyle, Mikayla Hawkinson (@mikhawkinson). In it, we talk about what it’s like to grow up as a mixed female in a predominantly white community, racial barriers within the makeup industry, discovering self-worth, and how these experiences have shaped her overall identity and career.
Makeup Artist & Content Creator
Words You Often Use To Identify Yourself:
Wife, aunt, sister, caregiver, Virgo, feminist, activist, millennial, eccentric, straight but I love feminine figures, empath, creator, stubborn and judgmental
Biological Racial Identity:
Mixed Race (black & white)
What You’re Listening To:
Gaga’s Chromatica was really good. Recently, “Easy Listening” radio has really made me happy. Lots of Tracy Chapman, old school rock, a little soul, and a little R&B always puts me in the best mood. I usually start playing it around dinner time so I have something to groove to while I’m cooking.
What You’re Reading:
Becoming by Michelle Obama (super late, don’t come for me). As soon as I’m finished with the book, I want to watch the documentary. I’m a magazine girl, so I’m always perusing lots of those for fashion, photography, short stories and fun articles.
What Are You Most Proud Of?
My relationship with my parents, my marriage and the auntie that I am. Also, my ability to adapt. Moving homes, taking on new jobs, facing adversity and work in a time of a global pandemic; humans can be very resilient and adapt. I’m proud to say as I experience new things that I am growing from them. Through all of the struggles, I have learned a lot about who I want to be and how I want to evolve.
What Inspires You?
Seeing others succeed and knowing that I can succeed as well. I love seeing directors, photographers, and other artists succeed in their chosen fields. It gives me a sense of unity.
What Drives You?
Family. I feel very responsible for a lot of people in my life so anything I can do for them is a win.
What Scares You?
2) The Dark.
3) Not having everything in place for my children someday. I want my babies to know a world full of opportunity and have two loving parents that supported them in whatever and whoever they want to become.
What Makes You Laugh?
My husband. No one makes me laugh and smile like him. We’re very lucky to have each other.
What cultures were most present in your home growing up? In what ways were they practiced/demonstrated?
I am adopted. The best way that I was able to identify with black culture was through music and film. My father always played me the greats of jazz, blues, and motown, and we loved to watch movies together. If I wanted to know more about something, my dad was always happy to explain it. He never wanted me to be in the dark about my ethnicity or civil rights.
Christianity was always practiced by my parents as well. I went to church every Sunday until I was a teenager. Christmas and Easter were always a big deal, centered around family and celebration, because they were connected to our faith.
What was the first time you felt different, out of place or less than because of your race?
I grew up in a predominantly white area so I didn’t have a friend of color until I was in middle school. I remember that some of the parents wouldn’t allow me to spend time with their children, out of fear that I would be a bad influence solely because of the color of my skin. I was also discriminated against heavily in middle school by other black students because I wasn’t “black like them” – I was “white washed”. I often felt that I was “too white” for the black kids, and “too black” for the white kids. It was extremely confusing and definitely caused me some depression and anxiety. It’s a lot to take in all at once, especially as a child/teenager.
Dating was strange as well. That was a huge wake up call in realizing that people had prejudices and stereotypes that I may never be able to shake. I once had a boyfriend whose mother wouldn’t even shake my hand, worried that I’d “rub off on her”. She never let us hang out because she was worried I was deviant. I had never even had a conversation with her – it was wild! On the reverse, when I was in college and dating my now (white) husband, there was a black student who would constantly nag on me for having a boyfriend of a different ethnicity.
“He sought me out in our dorms, said I should only be with men of my own color, not to be a stolen woman, and gave me a book on the importance of marrying within my own race. I was mortified. I’ve experienced racism and prejudice from all angles. It’s draining.”
Thankfully, I had some wonderful friendships with my white friends growing up so that helped me to see past physical appearance and recognize personality and internal identity early on. Many of those friendships, I still have to this day – I’m thankful for that. Kindness matters and good friends can help you through difficult times.
In what way(s) have you experienced racism in your industry, specifically?
In makeup artistry and social media, it has proven more difficult for a white person to connect with a black person on makeup artistry techniques and applications. The difference in skin tone creates a barrier. “Well, their skin tone isn’t the same as mine, so how can I apply the same foundation as them? Their color choices will be different, so it doesn’t connect with me. Therefore, I won’t support or watch them!” It’s bizarre, but it happens all the time and makes it incredibly difficult to get ahead. I’ve had people not trust me to apply makeup to their face out of fear that I am not educated enough to apply to every skin tone.
In what ways do you feel that your race has affected your career?
For a while, I didn’t see it. It was a positive thing that I had the job, but I began to recognize that often I was being used to represent the “token black girl with good speaking skills and an education” to drive the diversity track of a company. To this day, I work at a LORT theatre company through a university and am the only woman of color and one of two black employees in the whole company. There are other minorities, but not many. I’ve almost conditioned myself to expect [the lack of representation], which is sad.
How have you navigated your own cultural identity during a time when discussions about race have been top of mind?
I ask a lot of questions. Sometimes, it’s far better to listen and observe others’ black experience than to overpower the conversation. Personally, I didn’t learn about my cultural identity until I was older. All I knew of myself for a long time was: “I’m black and white, my parents are Christians, and I love to sing and dance.” So I like to listen, which helps me connect better.
I also believe that my cultural identity isn’t up for discussion just to help someone better understand who I am. I cannot begin to tell you how many conversations have started with people wanting me to explain my background because they “just don’t get me!”. It happened quite a bit in college with other black students. I am proud of who I am, but the narrative of “let me put myself under a microscope and explain my past and my cultural experiences so that you feel better about my identity” gets old and frustrating.
I shouldn’t have to explain my whole life story to you for you to understand and respect why I like school, why I’m well spoken, or why I am a huge advocate for female equality and the arts. This is who I am – take it or leave it.
What responsibility do you think those in your industry have in working toward racial equality?
I don’t think it is the responsibility of Black people to teach others how to be accepting and tolerant of Black people and Black culture. You have to look within yourself and examine why you are hateful or angry towards other humans, solely based on the color or their skin and stereotypes.
I do think we need to fight for more representation across beauty campaigns, fashion lines, fashion shows, commercials, magazine covers, etc. I feel more connected to all of these when I see a full figured black woman or minority on the cover of that magazine or in that ad campaign. Representation matters.
It is not my job to teach those how to not be racist because I am black, but I do think it is my job to strive for a more diverse representation of models, artists, “real, normal” people in beauty, art and editorial makeup.
What does justice and/or freedom look like to you?
I think on a small scale, it starts with erasing stereotypes, microinsults and aggressions. I should never feel uncomfortable just hearing these things as the norm, and furthermore being expected to accept them as the norm. “Oh, but you’re not really black. You grew up with white parents. You don’t know the black experience.” “Wow, you’re quite smart for a black girl but, I mean, you do sound and act white, so it makes sense.” or “Calm down. These things aren’t happening directly to you. Stop being so sensitive!” “All lives matter” “I don’t see color” and “What’s fair is fair!” All of these expressions – they suppress you and make you feel less than. It’s unjust, and it invalidates MY black experience.
On a larger scale, I think we have a lot of work to do in our communities. Just 10 minutes down the street from where I live, there are people jobless, with no food, in shelters, with no way to come up. They have big dreams, big voices, and are intelligent, but will always be seen as less than and have to live in a world where their whole life is nothing but survival. No opportunity, no pleasure. The system has failed them, and it sucks. They deserve every opportunity that the rest of us have. No questions asked.
Any advice for young Black artists in your industry?
Not to get all Viola Davis, “You is Kind You is Smart You is Important,” but I think learning how to value your self worth is monumental. I didn’t gain this until I went to college and realized how much I loved film and creating. Being in New York City, with so much culture and diversity and seeing that successful people are no different than you or I made me realize that I, too, can do ANYTHING that I set my mind to. I am not less than due to the melanin level in my skin. Will I have to fight more? Yes. Are the circumstances that you are handed more difficult than that of some of your white peers? Yes. I’m telling you, though – the final outcome and success will be so much sweeter.
Age also plays a really interesting factor. I’ll be 30 this fall, and I’ve learned to tell myself all the time, “I’m just getting started!” You have to advocate for yourself, speak up, and be your biggest support system. I want to work on movie sets, write books, do interactive art exhibits, have an online beauty and talkshow series. I put a lot of pressure on myself to have all of these things figured out by a certain age, but I now see that life is a journey, not a destination, and everything I do as part of the journey will have its triumphs. You’ll never be fully settled, so if you strive for the next thing throughout your entire life, it’s actually pretty cool.
Limits will strip you of your hope. Enjoy exploring and the success will come out of that.
What are you currently working on?
I just began a Black Beauty Series on my YouTube channel. Every week I choose a topic on black history whether it be a person, holiday, place, event, invention, discussion on the black experience while simultaneously doing a makeup tutorial featuring a black owned beauty brand. Brings awareness to history not being taught in schools, exposed black owned beauty brands and you get a little makeup artistry in there. I love it. I’m excited to see it grow over the next few years.
Where can we follow you or learn more about your work?
Mikayla’s Featured BLM Resources:
Want to be featured or nominate someone to be featured? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or DM me on instagram @westmadedesign. Let’s do the work!