Khadija Magardie: It’s time to talk about coloureds – and they’re gatvol
There are grumblings of discontent on Planet Proudly Coloured. There’s no pleasing some coloured people – that’s if reaction on some social media platforms to Tamaryn Green being crowned Miss South Africa is anything to go by.
It’s no good, the Coloureds are in eruption. And those who have been good so far, now begin to steam ominously. (With apologies to DH Lawrence) There’s no pleasing some coloureds – that’s if reaction on some social media platforms to Tamaryn Green being crowned Miss South Africa is anything to go by. While there are many coloureds celebrating her win and claiming her as one of their own, Tamaryn Green, with her delicate features, has flung open a Pandora’s Box – as some have been commenting that a coloured woman is not “representative” of South Africa. This unfortunately confirms a view held by many coloureds that they weren’t white enough under apartheid, now they’re not black enough under democracy – as they so love repeating it. The beauty queen from Paarl (you can’t get more coloured than that) has overnight become the lightning rod for heated discussion around notions of representation; around what constitutes “authentic colouredness”; around light-skinned POC privilege, around whether coloureds are in fact even black. The latter, despite being a particularly regrettable discussion to be taking place 24 years since democracy, is nevertheless long overdue. It’s time to have an honest discussion about coloureds feeling, rightly or wrongly, that they have been marginalised by the national democratic project. Particularly if one considers that a couple of years back, coloureds quietly knocked whites off their perch as the second largest race group in South Africa, according to Stats SA. Not that beauty pageant wins are a litmus test by anyone’s standards, but this is further reinforced when the chatterati start pulling out pictures of former Miss SA winners to claim that Jacqui Mofokeng was the first black woman to win the title; when in fact it was Amy Kleinhans the year before. One recalls how media at the time described Kleinhans, a coloured woman as “the first non-white” to win the contest. In the case of Green, the spectre of the “non-white” label looms equally large. When it comes to representation, it is regrettable that as blacks we still have a crabs-in-a-bucket mentality: instead of revelling in how far we have come from the days of whites-only contests, we want to take it down to levels of melanin. Not that it’s all been seriousness online. Some coloureds have been bemusedly lamenting that the problem isn’t that Green won, but with western beauty standards. A girl like her, they say, with her with “small features” and “type 2 hair”, was a far more acceptable shoo-in than had she had a broad nose and a kroeskop. For those not in the know, the czars of coiffure define this as “threads” that could do with a Good Hair Day, but not yet tubs of Sheen Hair Strate. Leaving notions of acceptable beauty standards aside, the discussion of where coloureds see themselves in South Africa today from an identity point of view is a timely one. A useful barometer for coloured sentiment is the Proudly Coloured brigade that typically inhabits Facebook. Its adherents, keyboards swelling with pride, have been commenting at length on how “one of our own” has been crowned the fairest of them all. This grouping, comprising vast swathes of coloureds from Valhalla Park to Wenties to Eldos, subscribes to the notion of coloureds as distinct and a race apart (from other blacks that is). All sorts inhabit Planet Proudly Coloured. There are the colourful – who are just out there to revel in the celebration of glorious coloured pastimes and activities like the jazz and eating a gatsby. There are the historians – who want to educate us about the glorious lineage running through each coloured’s veins (usually a Khoisan chief or a Malay prince). Then there are the crypto-racists who are quick to anger – and imagine there is a sinister conspiracy to sideline coloureds in the rainbow nation. They were out in force during the Ashwin Willemse saga a few weeks ago, going on about how the former Bok wasn’t just sticking it to The Man, but standing up on behalf of coloureds everywhere. Planet Proudly Coloured has its fair share of trolls; with racist epithets coming thick and fast directed at those who have been saying finalist Thando Mfundisi would have been a more “representative” winner. In this day and age, that there is still debate around whether coloureds are “real blacks” shows that there remain deep-seated and uncomfortable issues that haven’t been resolved by the rainbow nation project. And unless they are addressed, they will continue to fester in the cauldron of bitterness that could boil over. We have already witnessed it during sporadic service delivery protests in parts of Gauteng and the Western Cape when coloureds have gone on the rampage and things have taken an ugly, racial twist. The emergence of the bigoted fringe group Gatvol Capetonian (which wants a coloured homeland in Cape Town and wants to send all “the blacks” packing to the Eastern Cape) goes to show that there is a very real sense of grievance among many coloureds. Unfortunately, this feeling that they have been overlooked when it comes to the allocation of state resources has led to racism. While anti-black racism displayed by a minority of coloureds on social media platforms is by no means representative of a whole population group, those of us who grew up among coloureds know all to well that this distinctness that coloureds ascribe to themselves is more often than not used as a cover for prejudice – not just directed at “the blacks” but at other coloureds who look and act “too black”. Light-skinned person of colour privilege existed under apartheid, and it exists today. Instead of checking this privilege in terms of how they locate themselves in relation to the majority in this country, far too many coloureds either see themselves as victims of the national democratic project, or as superior to other blacks. This has bred a type of arrogance in certain coloured circles that wear the Proudly Coloured label not as a form of cultural self-expression, but as an assertion of a type of coloured nationalism that is both worrying and divisive. This is demonstrated in some of the clapbacks to critics of Tamaryn’s win on social media. One self-flagellating poster went on: “my dear coloured people. We will never ever be recognised by the rest of South Africa. We’re not black/white enough to be deemed as worthy in this country..” She signed off with a predictable “Everyone’s Ma se though.” Real questions must be asked about whether an apartheid-era classification, which was part of the Nationalist Party’s divide-and-rule machinations, should even persist. In South Africa, and South Africa alone, people of mixed heritage are classified as a separate race according to the population register. Once designed to enforce coloured privilege at the expense of other blacks, it appears that all these years later, it continues to enforce apartness between coloureds and the rest of the black population. As coloureds are at pains to point out repeatedly, they are not a homogenous monolith. This isn’t merely a rejection of stereotypes that paints everyone as a gangster, a skelling antie with curlers at midday, or a banjo-strumming buffoon. It is also a quest for recognition of the racial, cultural and even political diversity that exists in the coloured community. Considering the diversity of the coloured gene pool, it makes even less sense that they should be classified as a separate race group. The one drop rule should surely apply. And this is to say nothing of the ridiculous sub-classification of “black African”… Accepting (as one does) that no single race can lay claim to being “pure” in the world today, isn’t it high time we abolish the nonsensical category of coloured – with all its apartheid hangover connotations? Either that, or we abolish the term black entirely, and make us all coloured since we are in reality. After all, if everyone is coloured, then no one will be. DM Khadija Magardie is a writer and journalist.