colouredness: a disclaimer and an invitation

When 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 expected. I was completely blown away by how my poem was received, and after days of chewing on it, reflecting on it, chatting with friends about it, and then accepting a dare from Idelette at SheLovesMagazine, in her post “I Triple Dog Dare you”, I decided I needed to respond.

Firstly, I would like to thank all those who shared my post and those who sent comments that encouraged me – I felt affirmed and heard. I felt SEEN. Your support has given me courage to continue engaging in this space.

I also appreciate those whose comments challenged me. You forced me to think about my motives for writing the post, and you engaged me in ways that are helping me grow in my understanding of “colouredness”. I am particularly grateful to Connector, who shared an amazing list of articles and a video, entitled “I’m not Black, I’m Coloured” that I found really informative, but also affirming.

Secondly, I thought it might be helpful for some people to understand the context of my poem, and here I will give a brief explanation that will also include an invitation.

The Context:

In 2013, I attended a conference in Uganda, an Amahoro Africa Gathering, where we explored the topic “Politics and the Kingdom of God”. Each country, on the African continent, that attended the conference was invited to share about the political landscape of their country and how their faith intersected with the political realm.

One of the amusing conversations had by some of the South African team were around the question regarding the racial classification of the coloured members of the team. Our fellow delegates struggled to understand that a “coloured” was not a child produced from one white and one black parent, but that both parents were also coloured. Some then requested a conversation with our delegation to learn more about the history of South Africa.

As I and another South African tried to answer questions around the origin of our people, a horrible realization dawned on me: I did not actually know, and the answers I was providing felt more like me passing on information that I had heard in by-the-way conversations, rather than actual facts.

Then, later that same day, a fellow South African, stopped me, grabbed by arms, and with intensity shining in her eyes whispered, “I am SO sorry for what my people did to your people.” What was most surprising for me was the shocking onslaught of grief that surfaced from somewhere within me. It stunned me because I had no idea what those emotions were about. This same friend also made the observation that whenever I mentioned the coloured community, I spoke about “them”, and not “us”, an observation that filled me with shame because I realized that I had not actually identified with my people.

Fast forward to another Amahoro Africa Gathering, this time held in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, 2014. In the bus travelling towards Goma from Kigali Rwanda, a friend was shocked that I did not know that those in South Africa who bore the surnames of the months of the year were descendants of slaves brought to South Africa by the Dutch East India Company when the Cape Colony was being established. These slaves were given the surname of the month in which their slave owners acquired them. Again, a realization that I knew next to nothing about the history of my people.

And this began my search for information about the origins of the coloured people of South Africa, a quest to learn about my community’s history. This search has led me to intentionally engaging people, asking them about their stories, probing their memories of South Africa during apartheid, in an attempt to develop a picture of who my people are, and where we come from.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk entitled “The danger of a single story” has taught me much of what I need to remember as I continue on this journey to understanding my people. In this video, she says,

Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person.

I am learning that I need to be critical concerning the stories of the origins of my people. I need to engage with the motives of those who communicate certain perspectives to discern whether their version is inclusive of many different perspectives or is an attempt to only promote one perspective.

She also says,

The single story creates stereotypes,and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.

There are many stories that stereotype the various peoples found in South Africa, and I am being challenged not to see people through these lenses, but to allow my interaction with them, and my intentional engagement with them, to instead create a picture of who they are.

She says,

I’ve always felt that it is impossible to engage properly with a place or a person without engaging with all of the stories of that place and that person. The consequence of the single story is this: It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult.

I am learning is that to reduce the stories to only one perspective is to rob the coloured community of the beauty of their complexity as a people. We are not a homogenous people, with only one set of experiences and one set of stories. Our backgrounds, our experiences, are diverse, and we need to honour that diversity rather than silence the voices who share stories different to our own.

And she says,

Stories matter. Many stories matter.Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.

Herein, then, lies my invitation…

The Invitation:

I value any CONSTRUCTIVE engagement, whether you agree and/or affirm what I write and whether you disagree and/or correct with my perspectives. I do not know all the answers. I do not have all the information. I do not know everything. I want to learn, and engaging with people who know stuff and those who are on a similar journey enables me to do so.

Intimating that my perspective is wrong effectively negates my experiences and those whose stories I have heard and share and silences not only me, but others whose stories are different to your own. Please try not to do so. I want to engage in dialogue with others. As i extend the courtesy to hear you, I would like the courtesy of being heard, and I want us to continue to converse without having either party feel invalidated or ashamed of her/his perspectives, thoughts and experiences.

Final comments:

At the beginning of this post, I mentioned a dare by my friend on SheLovesMagazine.com. Click on this link if you would like to read Idelette’s post, and maybe even take her up on her challenge 🙂

As a result of her post, I accepted the dare and this is what I am committing to for the next three months:

#dare2bdangerous

#dare2bdangerous #dangerousdollars

You can tell from my expression that this was a daunting moment. Cue accelerated-heart-rate, metallic-taste-in-mouth fear and anxiety and second guessing, and then pushing through and making what could be the hardest decision EVER.

I will be writing about what I am learning about coloured identity in the months to come and am hoping to engage with others who are knowledgeable about the subject and with those who are on a similar journey as I am. I will also be writing more about my experiences of the adoption process thus far.

So, are you on a similar journey? Are you exploring coloured identity, or have you explored this topic? If so, I would love to hear about it and to learn from you. Looking forward to hearing from you.

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2 thoughts on “colouredness: a disclaimer and an invitation

  1. lexyrussellmatthews April 2, 2015 at 12:56 pm Reply

    So sooooo value your story in this… thank you for being bold and sharing it, even when sometimes we as other’s (other to your story) don’t always get it. Love you my friend xx

    • findingandowningmyvoice April 2, 2015 at 2:19 pm Reply

      Thank you precious friend. Having you in my corner, cheering me on, gives me more courage to keep showing up in this space. Love you too.

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