It’s hardly people’s first assumption that I’m a coloured woman from the Cape. As a kid, I never felt offended if they thought I was black, until I was told to stay out the sun because my complexion would get too dark and I was reminded to apply relaxer to my regrowth before the aunty next door put some rollers in what should be perfectly straight hair. Suddenly my world became imperfect. As an adult, my realisation has grown that identifying myself as coloured has been for the convenience of others. To me, I am black.
In the past weeks, Cape Town film makers Kelly-Eve Koopman and Sarah Summers have been releasing a six-part documentary web series called Coloured Mentality. In it, local personalities consider what it means to be coloured in post-apartheid South Africa. What is coloured culture? Is Afrikaans a white language? Are coloured people black? As varied as the group is, so are the bulk of their answers.
Koopman and Summers remind us that they aim to start a conversation, not provide definitive answers. They want to cultivate an understanding of their diverse community that shatters stereotypes. The series has attracted a lot of buzz, with daily discussions about race and identity on the series’ Facebook page.
Describing their own identities as “complex”, they are concerned with stigmas and stereotypes around the term “coloured”. “But this discourse can be elitist and undermine the lived experience of the masses of people who identify as coloured,” they say in the Daily Maverick.
Lionel Adendorf, journalist-turned-politician, recently wrote in the Cape Argus: “There has never been a race called ‘coloured’. There is no coloured culture, no coloured traditions and no coloured customs. And therefore, no coloured people.”
This statement takes away from the shared experience of an entire group. Is it a shame that coloured people are a product of biological miscegenation? Or that this government does not know how to connect with the coloured people or that in 1994 they did nothing to save us from, or to change, this classification?
A group of coloured people are as diverse as any other race. The film makers could have explored what it is that unites us. Ethnicity? Cultural bonds? Shared history? Perhaps it was a combination.
You will not find conclusive answers in Coloured Mentality. For one, the series speaks only with Cape coloureds, which skews it. None of the subjects outrightly identifies as black, for example. For me there can never be the common ground they seek for defining coloured identity.
Watch the series on the Coloured Mentality Facebook page