I asked Coloured people what their experiences have been like in university. It is important for other Coloured people to understand that they are not alone and that their experiences are similar to other people’s experiences. I also chose this topic because I have never read anything about it and because I believe that our experiences are also valid. I have not mentioned the names of the people as the content covered is quite sensitive. This piece aims to raise awareness about the lived experience of a Coloured in university and within their Coloured community.
Coloured Male- Proudly Coloured
When I first arrived here, it was okay. It was okay at residence, being one of the only four Coloureds in residence during O-Week. We were all catered for. But attending all the talks during O-Week made me realise that all the academic talks and other talks were focused on Black students. I was under the impression that when they spoke about Black students that they included Coloureds and Indians, until they mentioned that they were talking about Black students who come from rural areas. And it was like we don’t even exist at this university. And of course the stereotypes stick to us wherever we go. Up until today, whenever people see me , it’s fine when I don’t speak but as soon as I open my mouth, they are always shocked that I am Coloured and that I have all of my teeth.
My experience here as a Coloured person still has its ups and downs as well. We’re not really catered for. Even with the naming of residences and of halls. There were so many Indian and Coloured activists during Apartheid but they never get recognized. We are not recognized. Even with the strikes, you never hear about the sacrifices of the Coloured student. All you hear are the sacrifices that the Black students made. We don’t exist. We weren’t part of it.
At first I didn’t like it here. I just wanted to go back home , transfer… We’re a minority and the Coloured people that are here, we just don’t care. We isolate ourselves. Ek weet nie. When I see my people, I can just start screaming and shouting ‘Hallelujah!’ Because ons is so min hier but then you get people who just don’t care. There was this one Coloured whom I met at the library and he was shocked that I speak Afrikaans. I asked him what was wrong with speaking Afrikaans and he said, “You’re speaking the language of the oppressor.” And I told him, “Nee!” I just turned around and left. They don’t want to acknowledge their heritage, they don’t love being Coloured and that’s one thing that I love!
This space does not welcome Coloured people, honestly. I don’t know why but it does not.
Coloured Male- I don’t know everything about Coloured people
If you have a group of friends that aren’t Coloured, they expect you to know everything about Coloured people as if being Coloured is one-dimensional. If you break it down, there is no universal answer to who or what ‘Coloured’ is. Within Coloureds themselves, is a wide variety of cultures and people don’t seem to understand that.
I’m the one Coloured friend in our circle of friends currently. It’s not hard explaining what it means to be Coloured because it is such a general question because not all Coloureds have the same culture. But it was different when I was at UCT because there I had a predominantly group of Coloured friends and even though we all hung out with each other, it was never like we actually saw race. You weren’t generally treated differently and if you were asked Coloured-based questions, you can see it was from a place of genuine interest and not fuelled by a race gap. As if they genuinely want to broaden their understanding and a general wanting to break a stereotype.
But being fortunate enough to have been at different campuses , you do see how in smaller universities or campuses, the stereotypes of a Coloured being dangerous comes to play. Because you can see the surprise when the stereotypes don’t hold. But it’s funny that with some, even after their eyes open, still cling to the stereotype. Possibly because that’s what was instilled in them at home. That’s why I’ve always had this notion that it’s technically too late to bring about change in older generations, even in ours. Change has to start at a very young age.
Coloured Female – Coloureds competing
I’m going to put it in the social context because that’s the only experience that I can actually share with you. My sister also attended the University of Fort Hare and from her experience the Coloureds always used to stick together. What I have noticed since I started attending university last year is that my group went from 25 Coloured girls straight down to the 5 Coloured girls that we are today. It’s quite bittersweet, it’s quite disheartening to find out that the rest of the people who broke away did so because of jealousy within the group. This is my perspective of it. The one day we were fine and the next day, this girl just separated herself from us. Ever since then, we have become ‘enemies’. With every other person that separated themselves from the group, we speak and we greet each other. But this one girl seemingly can’t stand us anymore. Even Coloured students in other years also seem to dislike us from the onset and they don’t even know us. They are always trying to compete with us. But we are not even bothered by them, we do our own thing. It’s almost like we are setting a competition up, if we laugh then they need to laugh louder. I’m not saying that they are ruining or making my university experience as a Coloured bad. It’s just not pleasant to see how our own kind don’t click with us for some reason. My group and I make it work for ourselves and we gravitate towards people who give off good energy. You’d think that the Coloureds would automatically come together. At this point, we smile with whoever smiles at us and laugh with whoever laughs with us. I don’t really have much to say about the university experience in terms of education because that’s all equal , we are all listened to, we are treated the same so that’s why I decided to share the social experience with you.
Coloured Male- My race was never a factor
I haven’t really thought about linking my experience at university with being Coloured. I don’t think I can because I just don’t think that way. My race has never been held against me. I’ve had one of the best experiences of my life at university; being able to fit in with both White and Black people and be myself without fear. That being said though, I have experienced racial tensions between them and been confided in for my non-judgement of situations and people as well as my objective opinion.
The Coloured people I’ve been friends with have either been equals or have looked up to me for my journey and not giving up, at all costs on my dreams. All the stereotypes have really just been jokes uniting everyone because we are ripping on one another instead of attacking each other. Everyone has ’embraced’ it so to say.
So I can’t relate to tensions and the negatives at university but in the life outside of it, for sure. I don’t think the competitiveness between Coloured people will die down because it seems like identity is based on how good and successful you are and how best you exhibit making being Coloured cool. No one wants to be outdone because you then seem to fall into this ‘intolerable’ space where you are rejected by all groups or you are tolerated but no one really values your contributions or what you have to say.
Coloured Male- Coloured and Queer
I feel proud of the fact that I am able to attend a tertiary institution especially because it was so difficult for people of colour in our parents generation to obtain their degree and to make something of themselves. That also plays a role in why I strive so much for success because I know people before me couldn’t or they didn’t have the opportunity to be where I am. Granted, I am still far from where I want to be but I think I have opportunities that people before me did not have due to racial segregation.
I also feel misplaced sometimes. I think this is also due to internalized inferiority based on my skin colour. I tend to have to change certain parts of myself in certain spaces like my voice and the way I speak. Sometimes I feel like I would withdraw myself and try not to make such a spectacle of myself in classes or in tutorials, in anything actually. There was a stage where I genuinely didn’t know where to fit in because granted this is very problematic and I’ve addressed this with myself but I feel for the sake of this piece, I will give you context. There are a lot of Coloured people on my campus and I didn’t know where I belong because there was either the people who mixed with different races and all the Coloured people that just stuck with each other. So I had to pause for a moment and figure out where I belonged and what was going on. In orientation I was very confused because especially coming from a small town, I automatically assumed that everyone sticks together , that was what I was used to. Sticking with who you are or pride in who I am as a Coloured person did stem a lot from university because I did not acknowledge it as much prior to this.
I really didn’t want to be noticed in the beginning, It was difficult for me to be myself around certain people because I was still getting used to a lot of things and to myself and figuring out who I am or who I’m trying to be and the difference between the two. That came a long way in my identity and my pride in being Coloured as well because I think with regards to changing the way that I spoke, I think generally people assume that if you have a Coloured accent or dialect that you should be perceived as dumb or like a stereotypical Coloured with gold teeth. And that was really problematic for me because I didn’t want people to look at me that way until I stopped caring about other people and what they expected from and of me. I also think being a Queer person of colour in a university environment was so refreshing as well because you realise a lot about how these people you used to idolize or the people you tried to morph yourself into; how they can’t touch you as opposed to who you actually are.
I think my race stands out all the time. I think I try to suppress it a lot but I do make myself seem different, seem like the new breed of Coloured or what I assumed or what I wanted and what I wanted people to see me as. And that was so messed up because especially if you don’t acknowledge who you are, or have pride in who you are, I think you tend to reach out for something that you aren’t in so many other aspects of life and that is initially what I did. My race definitely stands out in academic settings. I will get people who will automatically change their accent in a debate or something. They all change their accent to try and accommodate me but it just comes across as so annoying.
I do not feel that this space welcomes me, I feel like in the university environment, nobody expects Coloured people to necessarily do well or to achieve greatness and that is one of my mantras, initially to be great at everything that I do and to be great in failure even if that’s what it comes to. I think that so many people expect you to aspire to achieve the mundane as a Coloured person initially just because of the stigma and the stereotypical view of the Coloured person in society. I had an experience once in first year when I was where I answered a question in a workshop and as I walked out of the workshop, these two Coloured girls and a guy came up to me and they said, “Excuse me, do you think that you are better than us?” At first glance I assumed that they were joking so I laughed and asked them what they were talking about. And they were smiling so I didn’t know what the vibe was. And they said, “Why do you speak like that? Why do you think you are better than us?” And these were normal people that I’ve never met before but they were genuinely upset at the fact that I was speaking the way that I did or that I spoke out in a situation. Only now do I understand where they were coming from. I might have come across as ‘sturvy’ but that’s also so messed up about our community; that we are very closed off to other parts of Coloured people and we are so critical of each other. And that leads to many fragmented issues in our community.
I think mental health is a big issue as a Coloured person in university because its not spoken about enough. In most cases, we can’t necessarily go to our parents and tell them because they don’t necessarily understand it or they understand it but they aren’t sympathetic towards it. Especially in such a stressful environment as university; you need a support system and you need to communicate with parents and even if they aren’t supportive. I went through the most , I had to come out to my family, I eventually had to speak to them about my mental health issues. I still get the stares and the comments that people make about me being a Queer individual, being a Coloured and being a university student. But I try not to notice it or call people out when they do problematic things around me.
I also think we need to stop being the joke in certain instances and stop letting people define us as Coloured people and stop dictating what Coloured should be. A lot of introspection needs to be done with regards to Coloured identity and Coloured history as well. I think this whole rhetoric of Coloured people not having a culture is so problematic as well.
Coloured Female- My language is important
The first thing that comes to mind about my experience in university as a Coloured female, is that hearing Afrikaans being spoken is insanely rare. To the point where I heard it, I realised how much I actually missed it and how ( even though I don’t speak it) it’s still part of my heritage.
Coming from a community where people go to work immediately after matric (that’s if they have finished), going to university holds some kind of prestige. Being used to getting good marks at school, university was the next level. I had to adjust to 60% being my new good mark. Also feeling like you know stuff and when you get to lectures (it’s first year) and people use technical terms you’ve never heard of before and you wonder if people randomly go home and read academic readings for fun. It was difficult adjusting academically and teaching myself how to speak and write in what was basically a new language to me.
Socially I had to open my mind. At university, everyone is extremely different. People have different styles, sizes, beliefs and genders. I now had to adjust from the conservative Coloured mentality and realise that everybody is entitled to be who they want to be. Old school judgmental thoughts still seep through but I guess it’s because of the way I was raised and it being so deeply ingrained. It is a constant learning process.
Coloured Male- Ons is so min hier
It’s not an issue but its like , “Hey! There are Coloured people here as well!” People are indifferent to who you are as an individual in relation to your race. Because there’s Black, then there’s Indians, Xhosa’s , Zulu’s and friends and co. Everyone is Black. You just fall under Blackness. It’s not to say that you don’t feel welcomed, it’s not to say you don’t feel noticed, you don’t feel different you’re the same as everybody else regardless of your race.
There aren’t a lot of Coloured people, your race has nothing to do with what you have come here to do. You’re here for a degree and nobody cares about the little things except for your friends. The institution doesn’t care, the institution takes these things into account for statistical purposes. The institution doesn’t care about your traits.
The only situation I have ever been in that has required me to differentiate myself from other people was an event at the Hindu society. A Hindu friend invited me and it was clear that I’m not Indian but as a Coloured, I was just integrating and mingling with them. Your race doesn’t mean anything, you are Black and that’s the end of it. Individually, you know you are a Coloured person but nobody cares about that except for other Coloured people and there aren’t that many other Coloured people anyway. We’re a minority at any university.
Coloured Male- We are a minority here
I must mention that I believe we are a minority in more than one sense. Never mind our population at university. Our race stands out in many situations. The fact that we are a minimal number and it’s rather sad to see that. There’s so much potential in the community, in our community.
At many race talks, on the surface of it, it seems that us as Coloureds are neglected in the discussion when it comes to race, racial inequalities, based on my experiences here. I think that White and Black people do experience inequalities in different aspects but I just feel that us Coloureds are neglected, people don’t really speak about us. Not too long ago, we had a race talk and Coloureds weren’t even raised in the discussion and that hurt me.
Honestly, in my time here, I haven’t seen more than 30 Coloureds but I will say that as ons Afrikaans praat, it brings back a feeling of home. Our language also seems to be fading away. People don’t want to speak the language and it really gives me a welcoming feeling when I can actually speak to someone , jy weet?
This space doesn’t welcome Coloured people, there are so few Coloured people here and as a Coloured community we need to address this and build upon it as to why there aren’t as many Coloured students and to further and grow the Coloured community within the institution.