Yesterday I posted a picture of myself on facebook wearing a wrapped scarf around my head and a hoodie, I was looking rather glum if I do say so myself and only vaguely interested in whatever I was listening to. The picture was taken during a photojournalism class and my colleague Reuven was experimenting with depth of field. I posted the picture because I thought it most effectively captured my mood at the time.
One of my older friends from Cape Town commented on the picture, saying “Why had that sarafina look? PS: Shaka Zulu”… this was his comment, verbatim… I’m not sure if he was trying to insult me or trying to make a joke but I wasn’t laughing because I didn’t get it. So I asked him what he meant and his reply was “Dude you look like Sarafina!!!!”… I felt so furious by this underhanded attack at my choice of scarf and once again, my skin colour. I wasn’t insulted by the fact that he had referred to me as Sarafina but the fact that he thought I would take offence to it is what made me mad. I was mad that he intentionally used a racial distinction to make me feel bad or insulted in some way.
I have been considered racially ambiguous all my life. People never know whether I am black or coloured.The first assumption is always that I’m black because I’m dark and my hair is covered with a scarf (which I wear because I’m muslim) but when I open my mouth it’s very obvious that I am coloured because of my Capetonian accent and the various shows of vulgarity in my speech (LOL not all coloureds are vulgar). I used to hate my hair and my skin tone because of it, always being referred to as black and made fun of by my coloured class mates because I was so much darker than them, oh and not to mention my derrière, I had a huge bum for a kid, easily twerkable, always in the way but not so much anymore. But it never really bothered me, I took it in my stride, I went with it, even though I knew nothing of being black I wouldn’t mind so much that they made fun of me because these were things that I knew couldn’t change.
I can’t change the tone of my skin and even if I could, I’d never want to! My hair is always going to grow the same way, I could straighten it, but it will always come out of my scalp the same way! So my problem has never been with the fact that I’m referred to as something that I no doubt, look a lot like. I could be black any day, all I need is the language and the cultural know-how and you wouldn’t know the difference.
My problem is that A: people make it out to be an insult like there’s something wrong with dark skinned coloured girls with kinky hair. It’s that same bullshit that happens in coloured communities where darker skinned coloureds are made to feel inferior to lighter skinned people with better hair and that same notion that breeds self-hate and lack of self confidence among coloured girls and that same notion breeds racism in coloured communities and that is the same ideology that crippled this nation during Apartheid and has somewhat left our country in turmoil! And it needs to stop! The other problem is that you are labelling me as something that I have no knowledge of and therefore disrespecting my own cultural ancestry. This one is a bit more layered and profound and doesn’t convey any element of social justice but I believe it’s important to allow people the freedom to be whoever they are! Just because I don’t aesthetically fit your stereotype of a coloured person doesn’t mean you have the right to impose your ideas of what I should be onto me. I grew up in a Cape Malay home, with coloured family and Cape Malay traditions. That means something to me and I deserve the freedom to embrace that.
I am not black because I did not grow up in a black home with black cultural practices, whatever that may be. I do not understand the nuances of growing up in a black home, rich, poor, middle class or otherwise. I grew up on the Cape Flats speaking Afrikaans so fast that half of the words don’t come out; I woke up to people yelling from one corner to the other, with Sundays of Tevin Campbell and The Temptations, the smell of koeksisters and coffee filling up the house as the sun touched the earth; Ramadan meant the exchange of treats that my mother made between us and other muslim neighbours; every eid christian neighbours would dress up and celebrate with us and every christmas we would do the same; Guy fawks (guyfox) meant that we would throw one another with eggs and paint and smear toothpaste over eachothers faces and we’d all clean up the streets the next day; every boxing day we’d go to a beach and every 2nd January we went to watch the Cape Minstrels in Cape Town CBD.
This isn’t all of it but it is part of what I believe make me coloured. And the values that these life experiences have taught me distinguish me from any other race. I do believe that it is a cultural distinction being coloured or being Cape Malay because there are things that we do that are distinguishingly different to other cultures of people. (I dare you to contest that)
As a kid, I obviously didn’t understand this notion of identity and how bloody important it was, but now I completely get it. Especially in a world of people who are so blinded by everything else, it’s so easy to get lost, to forget who or what you are and where you come from. And I feel like those who came before me have a history and a legacy and played a part in me being who I am today and they taught me so much by showing me all those traditions and all those experiences and I have a responsibility to uphold that. Thats why my identity is very dear to me and I feel as though I have to defend it at all times and if i have to do it for the rest of my life, I will.