A coloured kid: a child of the in-between

This is a journey of exploration that began in earnest in June 2013, and is one that is ongoing. I do not have many answers, because in many ways the questions themselves are still unfolding.
But I take courage from Rainer Maria Rilke, who wrote,

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.

I also take courage in the belief that I am not alone on this journey, and am curious to hear and engage with others asking similar questions.
Yesterday my mom asked me why I wanted to write about this stuff, and my reply was that I wanted to start a conversation. I want to engage with others in my community who are asking the same questions, and who are wanting to participate in creating a South Africa where all can flourish.
And so I wrote this post. hard as it was. I was scared to put these thoughts out in the public domain, because I was afraid of the response, or lack of response, that this kind of post could generate. But I do not want fear to silence me. So I wrote this for me, and for those who want to engage in this journey with me.
Here is my offering, my jumbled up thoughts that have come from months of reflection and a short, but life-changing, conversation with my mom, who began to pass on aspects of my oral history.

I am a child of the in-between,
A child whose story includes a mixed bag of ancestry
Some known, some unknown
Ancient identities owned, other identities silenced;
A German great grandfather and a great grandmother who came from St Helena
That accounts for the
caramel-colour skin,
a kind-of cream colour skin
And chocolate brown skin of my dad and his sisters;
An Irish great great grandfather
And a descendant of an affair between a French nobleman,
one of the French Hugenots,
and one of his maids,
A child of their descendants that took on the surname “Noble”.
I am a child
Of a community
That lost
And gained;
Where some siblings were classified white, the others coloured;
Families torn apart, sometimes willingly, sometimes not
Where family visits could happen only after dark;
Whose people were displaced from their land by those of fairer skin
And where some of these communities
were resettled in places
from which those of darker skins
were displaced to areas of lesser value.
I am a child of a people
Whose career options were restricted by their skin colour
But were still offered better options than those relegated to working as maids or miners.
I am a child
Of an education system that was designed to produce only semi-skilled labour
A system that was in between one
that enabled a people to develop in superior ways
and another that was designed for those deemed good enough only for unskilled labour.
I am a child
Of a community who used to be
Not white enough
And now are not black enough;
A child of a people
who were thought not to experience emotions like white people do,
But also a child of a people
who look(ed) down on those
whose skin was much darker than ours
and whose hair was not as straight as ours,
A child of a people who lamented their lack of equality with whites
but felt that at least they were better than blacks.
I am a coloured woman
Who grew up in a middle class community,
Who had access to good nutrition, sanitation, indoor plumbing, good education,
Whose parents encouraged critical thinking,
Whose mother attained Masters degree and a dad whose intelligence did not rely on university qualifications,
Who was surrounded by family and friends who nurtured and encouraged me to become the best that I can be.
And yet
I am also a child that is only now beginning to own my in-between identity,
Is only now beginning to earnestly explore the fact that
I am a child
Of a people that were both oppressed and oppressor,
And with that understanding
To explore what that means
For me
And for my people
And our role in bringing about a South Africa that is characterized by reconciliation, restitution, justice and equality.
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19 thoughts on “A coloured kid: a child of the in-between

  1. lexyrussellmatthews March 26, 2015 at 1:25 pm Reply

    Well done my friend…brave and bold and beautiful xx

  2. brettfish March 26, 2015 at 4:26 pm Reply

    oh wow Nicole, so so great and you know i’m just sad cos you put it on your blog, not mine – ha! Thank you SO MUCH for being brave and sharing and opening this particular can… What an illuminative picture, glimpse into your life and past and present and some of the connections in between…

    More! More!
    love brett fish

    • findingandowningmyvoice March 26, 2015 at 11:21 pm Reply

      Thanks Brett. Maybe now that I have found my voice again, I’ll be game to write something for you šŸ™‚

  3. John March 27, 2015 at 1:24 pm Reply

    This is good. Really good. Thanks Nicole

  4. kairossouthernafrica March 27, 2015 at 10:32 pm Reply

    Hi Nicole. Thank you for this post. I am trying to understand why you wrote it – was it to explain your (understanding of your) identity to yourself and others? Was it to educate or to inform? I am not entirely sure what the purpose of the post is. Do you want to affirm “colouredness” in the same way that someone else would affirm some tribal identity? Someone called Mike Botha has done his PhD on coloured identity and will be presenting at the Centre for Christian Spirituality towards the end of April and perhaps it will be good if you and others who are interested in this conversation can be there. As for me, “coloured” is still a negative identity and one that I do not affirm. I fought against it during Apartheid and I have no intention of affriming it now that apartheid is gone. Neither do I buy into the “too black before, too white now” narrative….I think it is negative and does not contribute to a constructive discussion about the need for labels to be attached to identity. I have multiple positive identities – a human being, a child of God, a South African, etc etc. so I do not need more. Govt might need it but I do not. I grew up with a “black” identity but that was to denote oppression and not necessarily skin colour and that is why we had “black theology” for example. So I would like to engage more and hear your responses. Keep well, and thanks. Edwin Arrison

    • findingandowningmyvoice March 27, 2015 at 10:58 pm Reply

      Hi. Thank you for your response, and for your questions. I’m not sure if a comment section is a great place for me to fully attend to all your questions, but I will make some comments.

      Firstly, my parents also reject the designation “coloured”, and raised my sister and I without that designation being part of our identity.
      So, in answer to your first series of questions, this post is part of my exploration of my identity, but it is not the end.
      At a conference in Uganda in 2013, attendees were interested in what my racial classification was, and in trying to answer that question, I found myself struggling to do so adequately. So in a sense, this post was also a sort of explanation to others.
      I am also grateful for you bringing Mike Botha to my attention. I hope I get to hear him speak about his research.
      I would love to engage further with you about this, so I hope we’ll get an opportunity to do so in the near future. I will also be writing more about this, so you might get answers to some of your questions then.
      Have a blessed weekend.

  5. TonyLawrence March 28, 2015 at 11:21 am Reply

    Hi Nicole. Well done on adding your voice to a slowly growing number of voices who are trying to contextually understand their “in-betweener” identity in order to make a better value contribution to our (national) future. It is heart felt and sincere, yet, brutally honest and in-your-face, just the way it should be.
    Our stories need to be told and woven into the broader tapestry of the “rainbow nation”. Not everybody will fully understand the impact of history on the development of our people, but we hope that through self examination, and lots of bitter/sweet conversations, our people will find hope and courage in their own understanding of who they are, and the enormous potential they possess to make a lasting, positive, impact in building the nation you are dreaming about.
    Be blessed, and stay true to the journey . . . . . . .

    • findingandowningmyvoice March 28, 2015 at 11:33 am Reply

      Hi Tony,
      I’m struggling to find the adequate words to express how deeply grateful I am for your response, and “thank you” just does not feel enough.
      Thank you for acknowledging one of my heartfelt wishes with this post: that our people have within us a profound potential to engage with both oppressed and oppressors in our country because of our unique “in-between” identity. This is potential I am hoping to bring into spaces of dialogue, which I pray will translate into transformative action.
      So, thank you again, for seeing my heart.

  6. Carla Gasson March 28, 2015 at 2:05 pm Reply

    Wow! I’m so proud to call you, Nicole a friend!
    Just goes to show that intelligence knows no boundaries! Love and miss you so much!

    • findingandowningmyvoice March 28, 2015 at 5:16 pm Reply

      Thank you Carla! Your words really make me feel loved and supported. Love and miss you too.

  7. Tiffany March 29, 2015 at 4:44 pm Reply

    This is amazing, just love how you let it hang all out!

  8. […] I wrote “A coloured kid: a child of the inbetween”, I hoped to get some response, but I was not prepared for the many shares and more responses than I […]

  9. idelette April 3, 2015 at 1:07 am Reply

    Bravo, my friend. So thankful to walk this journey with you.

    • findingandowningmyvoice April 3, 2015 at 6:33 pm Reply

      Thank you Idelette. You created a space where I could show up and be seen. I am able to write because of you. I love you my friend.

  10. Diane Simpson April 16, 2015 at 11:33 am Reply

    Wow, incredibly courageous thank you for this amazing post, I can’t wait to read the rest. xx

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