I was having a particularly great day. The sun was shining and I was looking forward to binge watching my favourite series later that evening. For now, however, I had just completed a homework assignment and was looking for my tutor to help me mark it. Walking into the Mathematics building at Wits University I see an Indian man who seems to have just landed in South Africa a few hours ago. He is lost and being the nice youngster I am, I proceed to help him. For a long time the man had been staring at me and in a moment I would find out why. This is getting quite creepy; so as I explain the directions, I also plan an escape in my head. As I begin on my way towards the elevators the young man is unable to contain his excitement. He asks: “Are you a South African Indian?”
“In moments like these we wish people cared more about the good we do rather than what we look like.”
As a coloured woman you learn to get used to questions about your ethnicity. However, to be honest, it never ceases to get a little uncomfortable for me to answer. There are numerous other topics I’d prefer to discuss. I mean, why not ask about what I am studying? Where to find the best South African food? Or where all the pretty girls are hiding? (They’re in the Maths library). For the love of Lagrange! South Africans can all relate to a moment when they find themselves tired of confronting the topic of race and culture. In moments like these we wish people cared more about the good we do rather than what we look like.
It seems that people who are not me; and have no understanding of my experience as a human being would prefer to label me as they wish. Many people don’t understand what it means to be “coloured” so I often have to find a way to deal with the light racist remarks about the future of my teeth and expectations about my drinking habits or temper. My favourite one is when someone from the North of Johannesburg decides to greet me with “Awe”. They always follow up with a laughable “coloured” accent to help me feel more comfortable around them. Government Officials, fellow students and mentors have all encouraged me to claim that I am black. An Identity to which I have no problem accepting. So to the young Indian man I said the following: “No, I am Zulu”.
I’m sure you could imagine the utter confusion and mental implosion that had occurred on the spot. Did I lie? No. I have Zulu heritage on both sides of my family, Soooooo technically I’m mostly Zulu right?
Okay; so I neglected to mention my European great grandfathers from Portugal, England and apparently Scotland. I neglected the fact that I don’t practice Zulu culture and that I learned bits of the language off the internet courtesy of an app called “Memrise”(You should really check it out). I’m sure he would have especially loved to know about Mr Pillai, who was indeed my Indian Great grandfather.
“Coloured” has become a term I enjoy associating with a celebration of mixed heritage
I have a mixed heritage and I am tremendously proud of it. The way I see it is that I am living proof that even in the worst of historical times, love managed to see past skin colour. What makes coloured people particularly interesting is that we don’t all share the same heritage. I identify as a coloured woman, but Afrikaans is not at all my home language. “Coloured” has become a term I enjoy associating with a celebration of mixed heritage, but to others it means something completely different.
What I have realised is that if my God were to one day trust me with tiny human beings; I would need to finally get comfortable with the question. I would need to explain this so called ugly “coloured” word to them. I’m thinking of telling them the truth: “You have been flawlessly mixed by the great chemist himself.”
-Callan Abrahams, Founder of WakeUp ShakeUp SA