Interrogating my Identity as a Coloured Woman in South Africa

I have never doubted that I am Coloured, I have never been put in a position where I have had to. I have been called a ‘mixed race’ person but that hasn’t bothered me much. It hasn’t bothered me because I find it problematic that there is a negative connotation to the word ‘mixed’.

But nevertheless, I am a Coloured person and this has always been my reality. Most of my family members are Coloured and despite having moved around a lot, I stayed mostly in dominantly Coloured communities.

Being a Coloured person in South Africa, I have come to understand that there are some conversations where my voice should not be heard and there are some conversations where my voice should be dominant but it rarely is.

I understand that despite Coloured people being marginalized, that the struggles Coloured and Black people face are not the same. I say this, because there is this constant need to compare whose struggle is greater which then leads to whose voice should be the loudest in certain conversations. This is something that I understood more during the #FeesMustFall protest. I realised that despite everyone fighting for a common cause ; free education, everyone’s background is not the same. I understood why certain meetings required Black voices to be the only voices that needed to be heard because in other scenarios and situations, it was Black voices that were constantly silenced. I understood that despite not having come from a privileged background and needing the call for free education to be heard and recognized, that some conversations were not mine to have. That sometimes, it was more beneficial for me to listen to the plight of others and then to make informed opinions thereafter. Yet this does not mean that my position will remain that of being silent.

There are times and situations that require me to speak up, that require my voice to be the loudest in the room, especially when other Coloured people are afraid to speak up.Many Coloured people believe that this is why we are still suffering, because we do not speak up enough. The importance lies in knowing when to speak and knowing that what you’ll say is clear, concise and sensible.

Coloured people generally don’t have a particular place in society , or at least that’s how I feel. During Apartheid, we weren’t treated as inhumanely as Black people but we weren’t treated as well as White people either. But nobody can deny that we were treated unjustly. Many people I know, my family included, were subjected to forced removals, they also fought for my freedom and for the freedom of other Coloured people to stay in the Coloured community I am currently staying in, Schornville. But even so, their fight has become a footnote in the struggle, almost completely erased up until recently. Last year, the Amathole Museum displayed the struggle icons of King William’s Town under which my grandfather, Norman Malgas, and Victor Wilson among other struggle icons, were payed tribute for their efforts in securing the freedom of the Coloured community. This is important because not only does it shed light on the unsung heroes but it provides a different perspective of Coloured people.

A perspective that is different from what society is generally exposed to about Coloured people. There is little that frustrates me more than the portrayal of Coloured people in the media. The active portrayal of Coloured people needing to have a gap ( preferably their front teeth), and in the case that a Coloured person does have teeth, their teeth should be gold, that they always wear curlers (also known as rollers) in the street and even that they need to be part of a gang (because Coloured people are naturally violent and walk around with a pocket knife,right?) I sometimes get an uneasy feeling that it is this stereotypical Coloured that is constantly chosen for interviews. Remember when I said that there are some conversations where my voice needs to be dominant and the loudest? Well, this is one of them!

While interrogating my identity, these are the issues I’m faced with; having to debunk what society has deemed me to be , then having to build up the correct image of myself. Constantly having to question where I fit in and if I fit in at all. Needing to change my accent in certain contexts because of how people will receive me. Having to decipher when to speak and when to listen.

Interrogating my identity comes with complexities and intricacies that I am still attempting to grasp. Maybe this is my reality; a constant state of uncertainty and interrogating my identity as a Coloured woman in South Africa.

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