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Culture, Reality
Nolan Dennis

Seek the White Man

by Siyabonga Andre Dennis / Illustration by Nolan Dennis / 15.08.2011

I hate the term coloured, what the fuck does it mean? In my two decades on this planet I’ve come to realise that it refers to anyone whose yellow is more caramel than butter. Everyone thinks of Cape Town, of missing teeth and gangsters with odd fixations with numbers and sodomy. What identity can you prescribe? I’m not coloured (people call me that but no way fucking José), my rationale is that “coloured” doesn’t exist, how can it? Coloured people have no history, no culture, and no language, nothing to claim as their own except what has been imposed on them by a regime that only wanted them to be mechanics and builders. I fully support the people in the many Capes of this country who want to move towards the Khoisan identity, I wish I could join them, I was a cultural schizophrenic, I didn’t know what was mine, I didn’t know what I could claim as my history.

Growing up in a family that was now basically part of the new “black” elite, I’ve always identified myself as a black person. I thought it was natural. Most of the faces around me were black (well degrees of brown). My hair only vaguely looked straightish when it was short, I mean come on I fucking love Chicken Licken. However, I was dealt a severe cultural shift when I was designated as coloured in school and then I started to notice it generally, in everyday life. Everyone decided I was from Cape Town, that my favourite word was “ekse” and that my family had regular meetings where we would pull everyone’s front teeth out and then party to the tune of “tik tik”. Visiting Cape Town was equally weird, as a bruinou who couldn’t speak Afrikaans. I was heckled on every taxi ride. Every time I uttered the excuse, “sorry, I’m from Joburg,” it felt as if I was the Republic’s fool.

I thought that Black Consciousness would save me, but I was wrong, it seemed for me that entry into the Black Kingdom is just as hard as entry is into the White Kingdom (ask the Portuguese, Greeks and Jews). The fact that I couldn’t speak Zulu, despite my pitiful assurances that I was Zulu, condemned me to more jokes. I remember the albino digs and the, “hey Tom does your dad call you a kaffir?” Insanity and self loathing are often the only solace. Maybe it was because I couldn’t describe my feelings in Zulu, my maternal tongue, that I never knew the peace of my people. I couldn’t find a piece of me that fitted into the puzzle.

So I sulked back to the Mixed Race identity. “Ja bru, my dad’s like whiteish and my mum’s a black hey”. The few other people who were in the same boat as me, the sons and daughters of Nazis and Sotho slave women, at first glance would always say, “yeah my dad’s white and my mum’s black” after some prodding they would identify themselves as Mixed Race. Perhaps anything’s better than just being black…

I’ve given up trying to be accepted into a race. I’m going to gatecrash AWB conventions in Parys, I’m going to high five all the other WASP’s at their regular Melrose Arch meetings. And then, fuck it, I’m going to be black. I identify with the inherent blackness of myself, that my lips make botoxed MILF’s sigh with jealousy, that I never have to brush my hair out of face, that I can stay out in the sun an hour longer than white people.

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RESPONSES (28)
  1. Bindi says:

    “Coloured people have no history, no culture, and no language, nothing to claim as their own except what has been imposed on them by a regime that only wanted them to be mechanics and builders.”

    Initially, yes. I am no defender of coloured culture, but both sets of my great-grandparents were coloured and as such, I am not mixed race. I get just as irritated when ignorantly pasted with the mixed race identity i.e white mom and black dad whatever, as you do when labeled coloured. I am sorry that self-loathing and insanity characterize your self-identification, I’d imagine that cultural schizophrenia must be difficult to deal with, but disregarding an entire race of people who, for whatever reason, identify themselves as coloured, because you cannot identify with it, just seems a bit bitter. I feel as much natural affinity to my Khoisan heritage as I do to my Scottish, Indian, and Boer heritage, I’m pretty indifferent as to how I came about. I mean, it happened, I’m here, let’s move on. So your glorification of a particular origination of Coloured people just reeks of popular Afro-centric notions. Similarly, I am not from Cape Town, and get just as aggravated with the stereotyping. Difference is I don’t think a claimed cultural history is necessary for your own cultural evolution. So while it’s really rad that you’ve given up trying to be accepted into a race, just accept being mixed-race in the same way that coloured people accept being coloured and create a mixed-masala, take it as it comes, individually specific culture, the same way we do and roll with it. After all, in our country, being mixed-race can be viewed as just as inherently a product of a regime that only wanted you to be a shamefully hidden kleurling love-child, as being coloured is. It’s really just how you choose to deal with it.

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  2. Count Nero says:

    So a writer who doesn’t feel a sense of belonging to a certain cultural group decides that there is no such group? Maybe next time mahala wants to do an article that seeks to invalidate the idea of coloured identity, they should ask someone who has some experience on what it means have coloured identity.

    Feel free to express views on your own cultural identity but don’t presume to make statements about cultures you are obviously completely ignorant about… doos.

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  3. Ho Chin Min says:

    No culture? Ag c’mon we got colour tv on sabc ekse!

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  4. mmmm. says:

    Wow.
    All i can say is, you’re fucking ignorant if you’re going to ignore an entire culture that is, wait for it, actually in existance, just because you struggled through an identity crisis for a major part of your life.
    Mahala, lets get some articles that uplift. Not fucking one sided opinions that degrade.

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  5. S.A.D says:

    what exactly is coloured culture?

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  6. darkie numba 1 says:

    Siya man I feel your pain. I went through a similar self-analysis, with similar confusion. For the longest of time I categorised myself as mixed race also denying the label of “being” coloured, although I didn’t deny the coloured culture. (Just because there isn’t a specific anthropology doesn’t mean there isn’t a culture, you should do some research and talk to some coloured ppl for some closure) Over the past couple of years I started identifying with being coloured. It was a lot easier than trying to reply in Portuguese and I didn’t have to make my own (other) box when filling out forms. I adopted the coloured label for a number of reasons, but primarily it was that I realised that being coloured is just a racial category, a box that you tick. Your social identity (culture) doesn’t have to be your race, your sexuality, your religion. As an individual your own preferences and philosophies will guide you to a culture and to like-minded people.

    Sadly in SA we tie racial identity directly to cultural or social identity. If you have or, get a chance to travel to a place like Holland, I think you will find that race doesn’t play as major role in the makeup of a person’s identity. There, you can walk around and see a lot of what we categorise as “coloured” people, but they see themselves as Dutch first, maybe class or religion second, but race is further down the list.

    I didn’t know I had so much to say, but lastly just think of the white hip-hopper, the black kid that plays polo, the Indian that loves rugby. Your race and your identity don’t have to be superimposed onto each other. All the best on the road towards acceptance.

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  7. God says:

    Race is such a boring, played out concept.

    Define yourself however you want to. Let others define themselves however they want to.

    And then, move on to more important matters like money, cars and hoes. And, of course, pay your tithes.

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  8. im just saying says:

    All offenses and split lips aside, I am glad for the debate that has been sparked here. i’ll also say well done to mahala for at least, once again, lighting the match. I find it interesting that “the coloured identity” is still such a sensitive subject, that for all our posturing as a nation, we still haven’t quite learned what to do with the brown people.
    But even as a brown and sometimes begrudgingly “coloured on paper” African from the South, I feel that for all the shit associated with being coloured SA/ZA, I still live in a place where I can define myself daily along with a fair few people who just don’t give a fuck… because life is hard.
    I think you’re just young and angry. which is okay because we all are at some point. but don’t let “being coloured” discolour your vision. I do believe that there are many barriers that exist for us brown skins, mostly historical, but I also believe that many are self perpetuated. Like if you want to defy Verwoed, then stop with the self loathing. But, that said I have also done it, but the sooner you quit, the better it gets.

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  9. OrangeMoon says:

    you aren’t a coloured, dude. you are mixed race. big diff. deal with it. and what is your culture as you are so quick to dismiss the notion of a chlora culture? your ignorance and your arrogance are in a monumental battle for supremacy. as a self proclaimed new black elite, and presumably the recipient of a good education, its amazing that your identity crisis is based entirely on dissing chloras. really? you can only define yrself in terms of what u are NOT and use offensive tired old stereotyping as the foundation of yr argument? dude read a book!!! the identity issue has moved AWAY beyond what your pea brain can comprihend!!

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  10. Matt - OH says:

    You sound like a whinging teenager! I know many white kids that had/have “culture identity” crises ‘cos we aren’t ALL from the same European background. Grow up and stop using your colour as an excuse from most likely just being the kid at school nobody liked. Judging by the way you seem to have some deep-seated anger with your own actual parents for not declaring you as one or the other race, you were likely a very angry guy and actually just managed to piss everyone off which in turn led to you not being accepted by any group or race.

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  11. Matt - OH says:

    And as for being ticked off ‘cos everyone assumes you’re from Cape Town ‘cos of your colour? Try going through life being told you’re not African (even if you’re like 5th generation AT LEAST born here) just because your hair is straight and you can’t spend longer than an hour in the sun (as you so prejudicially say in your article…).

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  12. Anonymous says:

    all you guys commenting and saying the bro must deal with it and it’s a kak article and what not, well duck off because most of you whites including brown and blacks can’t decipher THE HIGHLY FUNDED SCIENTIFIC GLOBAL RACIST CAMPAIGN found in all media! do ya’ll know what i am talking about here, this system causes confusing, attacks your brain and degrades many minds…the one expressed here i must say is quite good…this article should be here and must be read! most whites can’t comment because most times the media (brainwashing tool no 1) serves white interests and not of 90% of people of colour on the planet!

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  13. realROZZANO! says:

    or sorry i pressed submit before entering my name and email, yes it’s me ROZZANO that just typed this last comment, kif or kak it’s the truth and most of ya’ll can’t even figure this SUBLIMINAL RACIST shit out!!!

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  14. Somie says:

    Being colored and being mixed are two different things.

    But to say coloured people have no history or culture is a bit much, everyone has a history they might not be able to trace it back from the beginning of time but it exists none the less.

    And coloured people do have culture, that stigmita was given to them to help perpetuate the concept that they do not belong neither here or there.

    As for being mixed and having issues with it..it’s ok it happens to most kids who are bi/multi racial as long as you know who you are , who your people are then it doesn’t matter.

    What about me Nigerian girl who left naija when she was 5 and grew up in the UK and everywhere else..in Naija i’m not seen as a nigerian but rather as a white person, people in SA would rather think i’m American than an African but fact is i know who my people are, where i’m from and my culture and traditions and mainly i know who I AM.

    My skin colour, how i speak, where i’ve lived or what other people say about me or think about me will NEVER define me.

    So who cares what others say or think of me, as long as you know who YOUR people are what the spectators say are absolutely and will forever remain irrelevant.

    Identity crisis’ will always happen, people will always be ignorant and say ignorant things..so find out WHO you are, learn your language asseblief because a huge indicator of who you are is your language, you don’t need to be able to speak it all the time, but many things culturally and traditionally can only passed through your mother tongue, and if you have more than one you should know them all.

    That’s my 5 cents or rather R1

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  15. Wilson says:

    God I love being English; it’s the SA equivalent of being Swiss.

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  16. Myolisi Sikupela says:

    Half thought incoherent wording from clearly a clueless wannabe writer.
    Please read up Coloured peoples identity and culture and how settlers and people like you continue to distort it by claiming it doesn’t exist. Count Nero relays my feelings quite emphatically in his/ her last sentence. Some comments claim that you have sparked debate and that is necessary. The only necessary debate you have sparked by your article is whether you should be allowed to continue to write here or elsewhere except for maybe some Local Municipality newsletter.

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  17. Stace says:

    Hey Tommy, you should come visit us next time you in Cape Town and we can have a sit down about Coloured Culture and such. You know, over some gatsby’s and lang biere. (Love the illistrations Nolan)

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  18. Fnord says:

    Culture’s a scam. Quit trying to fit into it and rather redesign it.

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  19. Storm says:

    Was going to say – ohhhhh, not agan! But hey, thanks for sharing. Was more of a personal journey than a cause and certainly gave me a minute to pause(sorry bout that), walk a mile in your shoes, improve my perspective and hopefully reduce the inclination to sterotype. Little less defensive anger and a little more empathy might go along way for all of us. But as always the comments offer as much value as the articles. Thanks Mahala

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  20. Hemani says:

    Nolan and Tommy your parents did something right when they raised your minds. Its impressive that you’ve grappled through this issue in such an intelligent and honest way. This thing is suffocatingly ever-present cross to bear, when it actually should be a non issue, so Im happy that you’ve at least attempted to push through it.
    The dialogue on race and identity in South Africa is far bigger than what can be contained in the mahala comments section, but if anything its nice to see your honest account of your personal experience. Well done.

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  21. raimondo says:

    Haha, love your prose and angle Siyabonga.

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  22. Bushman says:

    Here’s a piece of history from a book called Rainmaker that may throw some debate at the problem of coloured history. They have the oldest history on the planet.

    ‘Why is it that to call someone Boesman or Hotnot is so bad among the coloured people?’ I asked. ‘Why do I hate it?’
    ‘It’s a good question,’ he said. ‘I was coming to that. The whites who came to the Cape didn’t like to work. Maybe they were weak. Maybe they were lazy. But they caught black people and some /Xam and made them slaves to do the labour. They even worked in the kitchens and one /Xam woman became the wife of Governor Van der Stel. But mostly they were on farms.
    ‘About 200 years after the whites arrived, slavery was made illegal. White farmers were forced to let their slaves free. They were very angry about that. So they made a new law. Any /Xam person who was not working for a farmer could be caught and made to work for whoever caught him for 25 years. They were called inboekselings. The farmers would go on raids to the settlements of the /Xam and kill anyone who resisted. The rest were booked in as slaves. Even women and children.
    ‘After a long time, the king in England heard about this. His government forced the Cape government to let the /Xam free. They had to change the inboekseling laws. When the /Xam heard about this they ran away from the farms. Thousands and thousands of them. But they couldn’t go back to the places of their ancestors and their old waterpits, because white farmers had stolen the land. There wasn’t any food for them to hunt. So they went to Cape Town. That’s really where the coloured people came from. They are the /Xam and also the Khoikhoin.’
    ‘You mean coloureds are really from the First People?’ I asked. ‘Then why is Boesman a swear word?’
    ‘You see, there was a problem,’ said Mr Kabbo. ‘My people knew the farmers wouldn’t be without free workers for long. They knew the inboekseling law would come back and catch them. So they did something very clever. They said they weren’t Bushmen or Hottentots. They called themselves mixed race from white and black. Bushmen suddenly disappeared. If the white farmers wanted them they were gone.’
    I thought this was the end of the story, but there was something he hadn’t answered. ‘Why is Boesman such a horrible word?’ I repeated.
    ‘Well, they were correct about the law,’ he said. ‘After a while it came back. But there were no Bushmen for it to catch, just maybe a few /Xam deep in the mountains. It was very dangerous if someone found out you were a Bushman. People learned to deny they were anything but coloured. They said they were mixed people, half black, half white. It was much better to be a bastard than a Bushman in those days, and even now. There was also the shame of being defeated. So if you wanted to do something really bad to someone of the First People, to curse them when there were other people around, you called them Boesman or Hotnot. People knew it was a curse but forgot why.

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  23. blah says:

    Kudos to Mahala for publishing articles like this. They generate real debate about real South African cultural issues.

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  24. Safiyya says:

    Anyone who is mixed race and labelled as coloured hates being called that because being mixed race you do not fit in to the coloured category as you do not have the same culture. It is annoying because people are telling you you are something that you are not and you do not relate to.
    Being coloured has A LOT to do with culture. You get coloureds that look black and others that look white but their culture is what makes them coloured.
    Mixed and coloured to me seems very different but maybe being born in a different country makes it seem so.

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  25. Ign'ant Hokey says:

    If anyone can stake the claim on being uniquely South African, it’s the “coloured” people.
    Rather than having a clearly defined geographical or tribal heritage, they arose from the confluence of our nation’s history.

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  26. Beatrice says:

    Why does this writer not write regularly for Mahala?

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