Coloured

Abby writes about her community in the Cape Town area:

Coloured

IMG-20131011-00096Nope, that’s not a typo or a slur. That’s a racial category.

This blog post is, in truth, far overdue. I’ve struggled with how to write it, because the story of the coloured community is not my story to tell. I shudder to think I might give you a “single story” (check out the TED Talk about single stories here) of the coloured community in Cape Town, but you cannot fully accompany me on my journey without learning about whom I am accompanying.

Coloured is a racial category in South Africa. The simplest definition of the coloured community is “neither white nor black” or “mixed race.” But in all honesty, that gives you a dull gray blurry picture of a vibrant, colorful, beautiful, complex community.

The majority of the people I live and interact with in Cape Town are coloured. The majority has a mother tongue of Afrikaans, but many are English-speaking. The majority is Christian, but many are Muslim. Their literal skin color varies greatly, as does their lineage.

Historians posit that most people in the coloured community have ancestry from Northern Europe (the effects of the Dutch and English settling in the Cape), Southern and Western Africa, and indigenous populations (as in the Khoi and the San who were the original inhabitants of this geographic region). However, they also have lineage from the sad history of slavery in this area. During colonialization, slaves were brought to the Cape from many different countries (Indonesia, Malaysia, Madagascar, India, Mozambique, and others).

So, there were all these various cultures from all these various places that were combining and changing and creating new cultures in this area.

And then, the apartheid years changed everything. Pass laws. Group Areas Acts. All of these landmarks of an era of discrimination required the people of South Africa to be racially categorized. And the Afrikaners who were making the laws also came up with the racial categories. The categories included White, Black, Asian, and Coloured. Coloured indicated anyone who did not fit into one of the other categories, including people of all the ancestry I mentioned above.

The coloured community during apartheid was given some benefits that the black community was not. They were in no way equal to the white population, but they mostly had better access to education, jobs, public services, and housing.

Since 1994 and the end of apartheid, this country has undergone so much change and faced so many challenges. The sad fact is that there is still a lot of racial segregation- it is just no longer enforced by the government.

The coloured community in the Western Cape still feels that they face discrimination from those in power. As Lindsay Johns, Coloured blogger, wrote “It seems that colouredness has been unpalatable both to the old Afrikaner regime and now to the unashamedly Afrocentric ANC.” Or there was my host mom, who said, “It used to be we weren’t white enough to be White. Now we’re not black enough to be Black.”

They are frustrated, often disenfranchised, and dream of a country that practices what it preaches in terms of racial equality.

They are my family, my coworkers, my friends. They are my community, and they are coloured. I hope that in the next six months I can share more of their stories.

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