Los Angeles 2017:
Stranger: “Wow, you look so exotic, what are you?”
Stranger: [gasps] OMG, you can’t use that term!
Firstly, I was annoyed with being called “exotic” hence my blunt, one word answer and secondly, I was confused by how someone of a different race just told me how I should or should not refer to myself and my own race. After that, years of traveling around America and Europe taught me that “coloured” in Southern Africa meant something completely different compared to the rest of the world. Where I’m from coloured symbolises a community and a culture, whereas elsewhere it is a reminder of racist, derogatory terms used during slavery. So I got groomed into telling people that I am “mixed race” but I am not mixed race…
Both of my parents are coloured, which would mean that I am technically not a mixture of black and white, I am a coloured person made from two coloured people. Complicated…I know. However, my want and need to identify as coloured is not just about the technicalities of my racial makeup, it is about the meaning of coloured in my country. The history of our community is a sordid one which we have turned into a celebration of belonging. The beginning of coloured or mixed race people was a story of slaveowners raping their slaves and so came about mixed people. So we started from a violent and pessimistic story which then got worse over time. Because of how we came about, we were not accepted by either races. We were an embarrassment to both black and white and we fitted neither category. Even now, we are definitely not considered white but we are too diluted to be considered black either so where exactly does that leave us? It left us creating our own coloured community which is comprised of people who have never really belonged anywhere else.
We have our own neighbourhoods, our food, our accent and our own culture. You could go as far as saying we have our own language because when I use coloured slang no other person can understand me except a Southern African coloured person. What is more is that we relish in our culture, we are extremely proud of it despite its stereotypes and negative aspects. We cook our curries and have our braii’s wherever we go, our accent is strong and distinguishable and our party spirit (which is unmatched) follows us no matter where we are.
The top picture is my family members when they were younger (my mother’s generation). The picture on the left is my friends and I just last December and the picture on the right is my baby brother and I. As you can see, we are all different shades of brown but we all still identify as coming from the exact same community. We understand jokes that no one else will and we see life and each other in a different way. So, yes, I am proudly coloured and that word means more to us than people will ever understand.
Lately, however, coloured or mixed race people have become something of a trend which is both shocking and quite sad. Everyone suddenly wants little mixed babies with caramel brown skin and curly hair. So after we went from being the rejected race, we are now being fetishised into the ideal physical appearance. However, what is being done is what society does with everything; make the positive aspects of something trendy while never understanding the history or pain something carries with it. Yes being seen as beautiful in society is great but we found ourselves beautiful long before you did. What needed to come before the aesthetic appreciated of a mixed person was the understanding of how we have come to be and the struggles we have faced. The struggles of being called a ‘half-breed,’ ‘half-casts’ or as having no race at all. The struggle of being identified as drunkards, lazy, aggressive, school-drop-outs teen parents, incestous and a long list of negative stereotypes. While these stereotypes are not representative of us, we are far from perfect as a community but we are a proud community. We are thankful for each other and we will always stick by each other no matter the circumstances. So all of this is what you need to understand if you want to appreciate what it is to be coloured.