“It’s in the way we speak, our opinions on things, the heritage we claim as ours every festive season, the favourite foods and slang terms for family members”, says University graduate Tatum-Lee Louw who has been living in Mitchell’s Plain, a middle class coloured community all her life.
The debate on coloured identity in South Africa has been oozing for quite some time now, dating back to as early as the Apartheid regime. There are people who don’t want to be identified as being coloured and then there are people who are proud of the connotation that comes along with the form of identification. Tatum is one of many that firmly believe that coloured identity should be an evident aspect in society.
When looking back at how it all began I understand why some people feel that they have not yet embraced their true identity and culture and their resistance to acknowledge what has not been properly introduced by their ancestors. According to Razib Khan in his online article ‘Who are the Cape Coloureds of South Africa?’, history tells us that coloureds are the result of unions between white Europeans and coloured women of various races. The most prominent of these are the indigenous people of the Cape, the Khoisan. The Khoisan were natives long before whites and Bantu Africans pushed in from the south and north respectively.
The arguments from both ends of the stick are valid. Coloured identity is a product of slavery many years ago and yes we do sometimes find ourselves stuck in the middle of a warzone between the latter black and whites of South Africa. Apartheid and #Feesmustfall are basic examples of this. You won’t see a coloured student in sight whether they are for or against the #Feesmustfall movement. All of us are at home completing our assignments so we can pass by the end of the year. Selfish and it may seem logical to some. Deep down some of us think we can’t win a battle and that has got everything to do with the identity crisis we are facing. I admit that I wasn’t educated about race, especially about my own when I was on school. The very first time I heard about the coloured identity crisis was 2 months ago. My argument however sides with the opposite end of this great debate. Coloured people may have found their existence in a disgraceful timeframe and we may be hiding out in the middle of a battlefield but just like any other culture or race it has grown into something worthacknowledging, not including Wayde Van Niekerks world record breaking performance at the Olympics. (Why Wayde’s gold is a win for coloured identity).
The place coloured people have in the now post-Apartheid, democratic South Africa is non-existent and that is also one of the reasons some coloured people feel they don’t have a true identity. Every dilemma the country finds itself in is bickered about amongst blacks and whites. Coloured people have not been given the opportunity to voice their grievances about certain topics. Many will say that they have no heritage and dominion to speak for and they have been marginalised for that. What they do not understand is that being marginalised is the very thing that contributes to giving coloured people a sense of identity.
One of the things Tatum said in her statement about coloured identity is that coloured people don’t have a voice; they fear their opinions or offer them and then back out. That shook me because I could relate to what she said. As a young coloured female I have found myself caught in debates upon debates about race in this country. Not once did any of those debates acknowledge the struggles coloured people faced and are still facing. I’d go as far as saying that during those debates you must either classify yourself as being black or white. If you don’t stand for and acknowledge either you are labelled as being offensive. That sort of thing plays with your emotions and makes you confused but it doesn’t mean that your sense of identity has to be lost. That is the mistake most coloured people make. We are too quick to bury ourselves in pity and shame.
We need to become a united front and voice what we have feared to speak about. Fight against being in the middle. Don’t be afraid. Say ‘this is who I am and I am proud of it.’ Embrace who you are, love and feel inspired by your rich history and colourful culture.