A closer look at Doja Cat’s ethnicity and parents

Doja Cat

Doja Cat’s unfiltered online persona has often landed her in trouble but the rapper has also curated a relatable image by being open about her flaws. Estranged from her father and raised by a single mother, Doja had an interesting childhood before becoming a public figure.

She comes from an artistic family with her parents’ professions revolving around visual and performing arts. While her mother is an artist, her father, not unlike herself, is a recognizable name in the South African entertainment industry as a famed actor and dancer.

Key Points

  • Doja Cat is of mixed race as her father, Dumisani Dlamini, hails from South Africa and her mother, Deborah Sawyer, is Jewish-American.
  • Doja’s father left for South Africa before she was born and has been separated from the family since.
  • Doja was brought up by her mother who is an accomplished painter and a graphic designer.
  • Dlamini is a known actor, dancer, and singer in South Africa and has performed in musicals, television shows, and movies.
  • Doja is estranged from her father and has never met him in person although he claims otherwise.

Doja Cat is biracial as she has a South African father and a Jewish-American mother

Doja Cat, whose real name is Amala Ratna Zandile Dlamini, was born on October 21, 1995, in Los Angeles, California. Her father, Dumisani Dlamini, is South African while her mother, Deborah Elizabeth Sawyer, is Jewish-American. She also has an older brother named Raman Dlamini.

Doja Cat when she was a baby  with her mother

Dlamini descends from Zululand and belongs to the largest ethnic group in South Africa, the Zulu people which is a part of the Nguni ethnicity. He is an established actor, singer, dancer, and producer in South Africa known for his roles in Broadway musicals and television series. Whereas, Sawyer is an accomplished painter and currently works as a graphic designer for a men’s clothing brand.

Sawyer and Dlamini met in New York in the early 90s where Dlamini had just finished his Broadway tour for the musical ‘Sarafina!’ where he played the role of Crocodile. The two had a brief relationship which ended when Dlamini continued to travel and tour and left for South Africa soon after.

Dlamini has said that he returned to South Africa after 15 years of living in America because of homesickness. He had planned for his family, Sawyer and the two children, to eventually move with him to South Africa. However, for undisclosed reasons, the plan did not materialize.

When Doja was eight, her mother relocated the family to Sai Anantam Ashram in Santa Monica Mountains, where they lived for four years and practiced Hinduism before returning to Los Angeles.

As a child, Doja coped with her father’s absence by thinking that he would return home though he never did

When she was little, Doja had always thought that Dlamini would return home anytime soon after touring and performing. She described her initial confusion at her father’s absence from her life in a 2021 interview with Rolling Stone, where she said:

“It’s a little strange to see everybody else with their dad, and you didn’t even really have one.”

Her childhood best friend, Gabrielle Hames, told the magazine that not having a father figure impacted Doja’s life while growing up.

“She would always think her dad was coming, and he didn’t come. She’d say, ‘My dad is gonna come, he lives in Africa, he’s just performing,’ and he wouldn’t come,” said Hames.

Moreover, Doja and her brother experienced racism when they were growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood in the upper-middle-class Oak Park suburbs of Los Angeles. She had majorly been raised around white and Jewish friends as there were few mixed-race children in the area.

“I looked different. My hair was different. People were very racist and very rude and unhinged and weird,” she recalled.

On May 25, 2020, over accusations of internalized racism and her alleged involvement in white supremacist online chatrooms, Doja affirmed her biracial identity in a now deleted Instagram statement which read:

“I personally have never been involved in any racist conversations. I’m a black woman. Half of my family is black from South Africa and I’m very proud of where I come from.”

Doja is estranged from her father who abandoned her before she was born and has never met him in person

Over the years, Doja has consistently maintained that she is estranged from her father who has been absent from her life since her birth. She has stated on multiple occasions that she had never met Dlamini in person and has only had one-sided interactions on social media from his side.

In a 2019 interview with The Quick Silva Show, Doja said that the last time she tried to meet her father was when she was thirteen but the meeting did not happen. While Doja is open to reconnecting with him in the future, she feels that it is unlikely as he is “probably busy”.

“I have just never met him and he is on Instagram and he comments on my pictures sometimes. Maybe not anymore but he did a few times, like months ago. He is an incredible dancer and a great actor but I don’t know him very well,” she said.

On the contrary, Dlamini has claimed that he is very close with Doja and her brother and has talked about his daughter to various media outlets in South Africa. In one instance, he told TshisaLIVE:

“[My daughter is a] beautiful girl [who goes by] the name Doja Cat, she’s singing with Nicki Minaj. If you google you will see, it’s D. O. J. A. C. A. T. She’s one of the best singers now in America. That’s my daughter.”

Dumisani Dlamini
Dumisani Dlamini

Though Doja finds her father supportive of her career path, she is also bewildered by his sudden interest in her life after her fame. She told Hot New Hip Hop:

“My dad is proud of me, he’s excited. He’s all over my Instagram but what’s funny is I never met him. So, he is all in the comments like, ‘My African princess,’ and I’m like, ‘Whaaat?!’.”

Although Doja holds no grudges against her father for abandoning her, she has admitted to The Fader that “it’s a little weird” not having him around in her life, adding:

“It’s always great to have both of your parents in your life and all of your brothers and sisters and everybody loves each other, but shit isn’t like that sometimes.”

Dumisani Dlamini claims that Doja’s management is stopping him from contacting her

When Dlamini was confronted with Doja’s statements about never having met him (which conflicted with his earlier interviews about her), he responded in April 2020 that Doja’s management was withholding him from contacting her.

“I have tried to search for my baby and the company that runs her entertainment has been blocking me. They know that if I could get hold of her, maybe she will disappear from the picture … I know my daughter, wherever she is, is looking for me,” he said.

Although he did not admit to meeting her, he claimed that the American media was misreporting the estrangement issue on purpose for publicity so that “Doja is talked about around the world”. However, it is known that Doja herself had spoken about being separated from him when asked by interviewers.

“I have been looking for my daughter as well. You mustn’t forget these Americans. Americans will always want to have something to cause a stir so that she stays in the media,” said Dlamini.

He later made inconsistent claims about meeting her and said that discussions about their strained relationship are “a made-up thing”.

“She got hold of me. We spoke. We connected. Now, at this time when she is there and on top, she has to grab the whole world’s attention, especially in South Africa because she is a South African and her daddy is here.”

While Doja had not directly debunked the claims, she has been clear to point out that she has never met her father.

Doja has said that her mother’s love for hip-hop influenced her taste in music

Doja credits her artistic parents for influencing her passion for music and performing. From a young age, she was enrolled in ballet, tap, piano, and jazz lessons by her mother. She further described her father as a talented dancer and said that she derived her talents from him.

“My mom was a painter and loves to sing behind closed doors. My father is a South African actor who danced in Broadway musicals for Lion King. I took a little bit of everything from both of them,” she told DAZED.

Doja Cat mother

In an episode with The Hotbox, Doja said that her mother exposed her to the works of hip-hop, neo-soul, and jazz artists such as Erykah Badu, Fugees, Alice, John Coltrane, and Earth, Wind, and Fire. Thus, she was inclined to make hip-hop music as an artist.

“My mom is kind of a hip-hop head which is really ironic because I’m Jewish, my grandma’s Jewish, she’s white, and she was never exposed to music like that until she started meeting people and was like, wow I really love this,” said Doja.

Besides, Doja draws inspiration from Jamiroquai and Amy Winehouse as she told Hot New Hip Hop:

“I listen to a lot of Jamiroquai. My mom likes Jamiroquai and she liked D’Angelo… Amy Winehouse was one of my earliest and favorite [inspirations]. My mom bought me an album of her when I was nine or eight.”

After 27 years of separation, Deborah Sawyer divorced Dumisani Dlamini in March 2022

According to RadarOnline, Sawyer filed for divorce from Dlamini in March 2022, after almost 27 years of separation. The court documents indicated that they had married on February 27, 1995, and Dlamini abandoned Sawyer on October 14, 1995, exactly a week before Doja was born.

Additionally, the reason for the split was cited as “irreconcilable differences” and Sawyer did not seek spousal support for both the parties. But she asked for all separate property and assets acquired before and during the marriage to be given to her “through gift or inheritance, on after the date of separation be confirmed to her”.

In another matter, Doja’s fans have begun to call out Dlamini for being a “deadbeat dad” all her life and using her name for clout. This was brought about by his contradicting stories about being close to Doja while she stated otherwise.