What does it mean to be Coloured? Wayde van Niekerk’s amazing performance has reignited the conversation around Coloured culture.
There’s this argument that occasionally rears its head saying Coloured people don’t really have a culture. That since we are not White enough and suffered under apartheid, we should all identify with being Black rather than Coloured. Others want us to recognise our Khoi and San ancestry. The only thing everyone seems to agree on is that nobody wants us to be White.
After Wayde’s Olympic gold, #Coloured trended on Twitter, which led to at least two eloquent – albeit opposing opinion pieces being written on a sister website about Coloured identity. The one was by ANC executive member Lionel Adendorf, who argues that by calling ourselves Coloured, we are submitting to apartheid propaganda, enslaving ourselves and limiting the experiences of our whole heritage.
He writes: “Coloured people need a second liberation because being ‘coloured’ is the veil over one’s Malay heritage or Khoisan ancestry.”
Our social media manager Carla Bernado wrote about how Wayde’s performance validated her choice to stop self-identifying as “Black”, but rather to embrace everything to do with being Coloured.
She celebrated Wayde’s achievement as a victory for South Africa, but more so for Coloured youngsters who may be inspired.
She writes: “Wayde will continue to do wonders for that little coloured boy and girl who too are struggling, who too were set up for failure by the apartheid system, taught to hate who they are and the skin they’re in.”
These are passionate pieces of writing, but sadly both fail to address two important points, namely the global village and the individual choice.
Truth is, all cultures all over the world have an element of borrowing or expropriating from others. It’s nothing new. Countries are conquered, nations fall, people migrate, empires topple and cultures are assimilated.
Our history is littered with such stories. The Romans, Shaka Zulu and Genghis Khan are examples of superpowers who forced their cultures on conquered territories.
So just like language, cultural identity is constantly shifting through generations.
The Olympics was evident to note how mixed the world is becoming.
So in global terms, Coloureds are no different. And I think the name is appropriate, as we are a colourful mix of virtually every bloodline in the world.
I’ve seen people who look no different to you and me on the streets of Hong Kong, Tripoli, Berlin and Bangkok. They might as well have been walking on AZ Berman Drive in Mitchells Plain.
Then there’s the most important thing of all – individual choice.
People identify with what they are most comfortable with. And in each case, they’re right.
Whether it’s about pickled fish, passion gaps, strange first names or kombuis Engels; whether your great-grandfather was German, Irish, Damara or incorrectly classified as Coloured; or whether you sport Scottish freckles under slick straight hair or a gorgeous korrelkop bush with lekker ronde wange.
Being Coloured is more than just a common history, a collective oppressed past, a skin tone or a unique language. Just about every culture in the world has those.
Being Coloured is a mindset; the satisfaction you get from a sense of belonging to a group that shares that mindset.
No one can say what group you should or should not belong to. So if you choose to be Coloured, then you are; and if you don’t, then you’re not! It’s that simple.
And arme Wayde. All he wanted to do was to win a gold medal at the Olympics.
I doubt he knew what a storm he would trigger by doing so.