In an amazing show of incredible athleticism and overwhelming talent, South Africa’s very own 24-year-old Wayde van Niekerk has smashed sprinting legend Michael Johnson’s 17 year standing 400m world record - ending the race at 43.03. This is the first gold medal for South Africa at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Here’s a video of this historic moment:
When I checked my Facebook feed this morning, my timeline was inundated with congratulatory posts. Videos and articles being shared of Wayde winning the race, Usain Bolt’s reaction to him breaking the world record, photos of Wayde’s 74-year-old coach, Ans Botha’s, face shining with pride as she saw his time and realised what he had done.
My eyes welled with tears watching the clip of Wayde leaving all his competitors in his dust. I’m sure most of South Africa felt the same.
And, yes, one of my first thoughts was: “Now the world will see what we’re capable of. Now everyone will know that coloured people are capable of extraordinary things,” because over the years I know and have experienced overwhelming doubt in the capabilities of people of my race.
Then, I logged onto Twitter. Quickly, my feelings of joy were replaced with anger. I saw tweets about how coloured people shouldn’t celebrate this as their victory. Tweets race-splaining that this was exclusively a South African victory, or that coloured people are actually black, therefore it’s a victory for black people everywhere and coloured people need to calm the hell down.
No. NO. This will not do.
To tell the coloured community that the celebration of this coloured man from Kraaifontein, is not a victory to be claimed by the coloured community, is not only insulting, but extremely problematic.
A little over a year ago, I was told by someone on Twitter that I am not brown, but black. I identify as coloured. Yet this person had the audacity to tell me that coloured people need to accept that we are all black and that is our identity. This tweeter also told me that coloured people “claim” blackness when it suits them.
I have never stated that I was black. I proudly called myself a coloured woman and was attacked for it by another person of colour because she thinks that I am confused about my identity. I am not. I will say it now and every day that I breathe – I am coloured and proud.
Telling coloured people that our identity is non-existent, or somehow inferior, is not only disrespectful, but speaks of ingrained racism within the communities of people of colour. Our struggles are similar, but also different and so are our experiences.
We’re stuck between two colours – black and white - and often told we’re not enough of one or the other. As Carla Bernardo points out in her thought piece Why Wayde's gold is a win for coloured identity: “You begin feeling marginalised, excluded from the South African narrative, called upon only when the Democratic Alliance and ANC needs your coloured vote in the Cape. You’re not white enough or black enough. You’re not quite sure of your history, but you know that somewhere along the line there was rape and violence and having been conquered.”
We’re told we don’t belong, or told to adapt our identities to suit a certain narrative, but are called upon to be allies when support is needed. So why can’t we get support from other POC? Or are we forever meant to play second fiddle in the orchestra of race issues and just accept that our voices aren’t as valued?
We need this victory. We need this young man with his brown skin and Cape Town accent to be shown to the world not only as a South African, but as a coloured South African who dared to dream and managed so much. This man whose mother, Odessa Swarts, (like many People Of Colour) couldn’t reach her true potential due to a lack of resources and disadvantages experiences under Apartheid.
For those laaities on the Cape Flats who will now be playing Olympics-Olympics and fighting over who gets to be Wayde, for the little brown babies who will get to grow up in a world where someone who looks like them is revered and celebrated for their athletic achievements, for the aunties who will tell their neighbours that they are somehow related to the Van Niekerk family by a cousin twice removed.
Because coloured people are still seen as a joke.
As stereotypical drug addicts with no front teeth. We’re thought of as lazy and underachieving. That we’d rather drink all day than work hard and achieve.
But Wayde’s feat challenges that ideal. It shows that coloured people are not here for your stereotypes. We are not to be laughed at and made fun of. We can be so much more than so many expect of us.
Let us have this one. Let us be proud. Let us see that brown skin is not a barrier to your dreams. Let us cherish this moment for we have had far too many stories of adversity and not enough to celebrate. Let us dance in the streets.
Let Wayde be our hero.
Follow Carmen on Twitter.What does Wayde's victory mean to you? Tell us how it made you feel.