Coloured by history, shaped by place*

Coloured by history, shaped by place*

 * title borrowed from the book by Z. Erasmus. 

I was asked recently to contribute to a discussion about the term "coloured". Personally, I have rejected this label most of my life. This does not mean I don't celebrate and / recognize my mixed heritage - I have 1 great grandparent who was Xhosa, 1 with  roots in St Helena Island, 1 from North India, 1 from Scandanavia, 1 with German roots and 2 who were a result of Dutch/Khoi relationships.

While growing up in the 80"s and early 90's my parents, who were very politically charged at the time told my brother and I that we were black - we weren't even ALLOWED to use the term "coloured". At school (where I sampled a variety of bizarre & tragic perspectives on race ) my peers and teachers couldn't understand why I chose to call myself black. I persisted to reject this term to the dismay of my teachers and friends (esp "coloured" friends). I think that my parents rejected the term coloured in favour of calling themselves black to identify with the black consciousness movement - it made sense politically.

The revolution has to be about the collective.

 By classifying people as "coloured" those in power denied/robbed/stripped people of their history and their cultural identity. It's a crime that most "coloured" people can't really trace back their lineage more than 3 or 4 generations. Most of us have pieced together fragments of stories and created disjointed trajectories. Many of us are still searching... I also find it ludicrous that we have to classify people according to the colour of their skin anyway. If we are going to reject the term "coloured" we have to reject all racial classifications and make them irrelevant. I just can't attach my identity to a race or to a number on my ID card when I know I am not that.

But what do YOU guys think?

  1. lebogang nkoane

    What I do know is I do have coloured cousins. What I do think is, by labelling my cousins coloured I am not attaching an 'identity' to them because we share the same history: we grew up together; we were raised by the same woman; we probably share the same if not a similar sense of identity.

    I would then say, I do think in my context — the term/word/phrase 'coloured' refers not to the identity of my cousins but as an adjective to say we do not have the same skin tone; an identifier but not an identity. I suppose I could say they are light skinned — but that would include my sister, which then implies by me using that term I am implying that they (my cousins) do not have parents with the same skin tone or rather they are born of two different races.

    This then brings me to race — does it identify the individual or does it define the individual — my liberal sensibilities would say the latter to be false, because every individual has the right, in places on this planet, define themselves in anyway they want to.

    But, there is always the external element that defines you without your consent to the definition.

    Wait, I think I am now rambling.

  2. NguJaz

    i understand your need to reject the term -- it does strip people of an identity with roots
    it's like an assumed-identity, not one denoting belonging, as it is a discriptor


    this might be a bit controversial but i object to the identity more than the term. there are a lot of positive aspects to it but my experience has been largely negative. my curiosity into things that weren't typically coloured was seen as strange and so (for a while at least) to fit in and self identify as coloured i had to lobotomize my curiosity. so i never quite understood what it meant to be coloured, whatever it was didn't seem to include just being yourself.

    I left south africa a while ago and i've travelled around a fair bit since. and in that time i forgot about being black/coloured. when it does eventually come up, i guess it might be question of identification or definition, but reality for me at least, it's neither. to explain what coloured is quite difficult and frustrating. it's a strange made up box, that people were once forced into now they dont want to get out. i never understood it as a kid and i dont understand (and care even less about it) now...

    maybe i've been gone too long, or i'm too jaded, but i don't see anything of value in the coloured identity. it's a mish mash of culture and tradition forged on the idea of being separate. it's an identity thats out of time and out of place in it's surroundings.

    as long as their are still coloured, blacks, whites, indians you wont have south africans.

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