Protecting the Coloured Identity through positive representation

by Casey Ludick

Stories about Coloured people often reinforce the well-established stereotypes that have been created about them. The stereotyping of historically coloured areas as ghettos only furthers the current narrative of Coloured people as a community prone to violence.

The lack of proper infrastructure, proper housing units, or what Coloured people had to endure during and after apartheid is seldom spoken of. Coloured people are massively under-represented in politics and onscreen. And when they are, they’re reduced to struggle stories.

Looking at this analytically, we know that negative on-screen depictions of people of colour in popular media can negatively impact how they are perceived. Many of the misconceptions about who Coloured people are, what they represent, and their ideals have been maintained in the media. So, Coloured people are criminalised through media and excluded from the South African identity. With what reason? Why do we allow this to continue? Why is the coloured language and culture continually excluded from the South African narrative?

Many Coloured people feel that they have been overlooked in the judicial system, in the workplace, and in schools solely because of their race. More specifically, their racial identity. Essentially, because they identify as coloured instead of black or white, many Coloured people (whose parents, grandparents and communities identify as coloured) reject their “colouredness” because of the negative impact their continued ethnic isolation has had on their individual perception.

Coloured people are often reduced to the perception of them that is consistently perpetuated by the South African education system, media, and cultural narratives. They’re seen as un-African, or foreign, when they are in fact indigenous to South Africa. Coloured people, historically, are a combination of ethnic groups indigenous to Southern Africa. They are descendants of the San, Khoi Khoi, Bantu nations and foreign slaves like those from Madagascar, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and India. This mixture means that much of the coloured identity was created to accommodate ethnic mixing within tribes. The classification system, however, was created to further the Apartheid segregationist regime and further oppress people of colour.

Coloured people have had to create a culture from the joys we were allowed during subjugation. The stereotypes about Coloured people neglect this and ultimately take credit for the development of the coloured identity in relation to race. They essentially limit the coloured identity to a people lacking culture. This misconception paints coloured people as an agency-less, inarticulate apartheid subgroup.

By perpetuating the negative stereotypes about Coloured people, you limit an entire community based on racial prejudice. By excluding Coloured people from the political history of this country, you deny them the honour of being a part of the South African identity. You deny them their agency, you deny them pride and dignity.

So, reinstate Coloured heroes. Tell their stories because when you don’t teach Coloured children South African history as it was, you deprive them of a role model who looks, acts, and speaks like they do. Teach Coloured children about Ashley Kriel and Dulcie September. Teach them about the Wynberg Seven. Teach them about Coloured people, and why they survive how they do. Teach them about the Twede Nuwe Jaar and why it is celebrated. Teach them about the Kaaps Klopse.

[from above] Coloured anti-apartheid activists Ashley Kriel and Dulcie September. Both were killed by members of the apartheid government. They are commemorated in the coloured communities but get very little recognition for their work in South African history. There was no record of the photographer for each of these photos.

The current system perpetuates an institutionalised selective amnesia that ignores the Coloured people of South Africa. Positive representation is important because the coloured identity is not violence and addiction, and it’s not religion based. It’s not gangsterism or violence that I’m referring to, I’m talking about the aunties that sit on the corner and tell you all about their day, and who come together when a child is hurt. I’m talking about Koeksister’s on Sunday mornings after church. I’m talking about every auntie or uncle who says “Hai Jirre, the last time I saw you, you were so small. Hai, you so big now. How’s yo deddy/mammie them?”. The coloured identity is based on the amalgamated values instilled in our communities and that is what should be represented.

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