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We need to talk about the violence of anti-Blackness in the coloured community

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The bigoted responses to local comedian Joey Rasdien’s controversial comment at the Ilm Arts Festival are a stark reminder of the racism and prejudice within Black communities in South Africa. Wanelisa Xaba reflects on her own experiences of racism in coloured communities.

I was born in Cape Town and I have lived there for most of my life. Last year, I moved to Joburg for about seven months. After two months, I had to return to Cape Town for a work meeting. Throughout my stay, I felt like someone had smacked me with a cold wet cloth across my face; being in Joburg for two months had enabled me to forget the violent ways in which coloured people treated me on a daily basis while navigating the streets of Cape Town as a Black person.

Let me backtrack a little. I went to ‘coloured schools’ in previously ‘coloured areas’ in Cape Town. This means that I have experienced my fair share of being called a ‘kaffir’ on my way to school or on the school grounds. When I was seven, my cousin and I were waiting for my aunt to pick us up from school when a group of boys in Kensington chased us with a knife down the street. After my aunt tracked them down, the knife turned out to be a toy, but our trauma was real. On the playground, when you got into a fight with a coloured student, you had to mentally prepare yourself to be reminded that you are kaffir. In grade five, after a dispute, I was stabbed with a sharp pencil in my chest after a confrontation with a male student. At another school, coloured teachers continuously asked why we didn’t attend township schools if we insisted on being late and blaming Metrorail. The continuous comments about how ugly our ‘kaffir/krous hare’ and unhygienic Black habits continued in high school.

As an adult, I constantly have to take taxis that go to Grassy Park, Manenberg or Mitchells Plain. I have anxiety every time I stop a taxi. I wonder, will I get into another argument? Will I get into another physical altercation with a taxi driver? Will I overhear a person say “die kaffir meisie dat bly by die double storey huis”? Will the driver mock my accent when I call out a street name? Will the whole taxi laugh and ridicule me in Afrikaans thinking I cannot understand or speak the language?

When I read the article about the parents who shut down Klipspruit Secondary School because they did not want a Black principal, my heart broke. I had flashbacks to various violent and dehumanising experiences I encountered growing up in Cape Town. My first instinct is to turn to anger and hate, to hurl the various insults I have taught myself as a defence mechanism throughout the years (which are very anti-Black as well). I don’t think this is useful.

I am very intentional about staying away from debates about the coloured identity. If a person says I must not address them as coloured but as Black, I apologise and address them accordingly. If another comrade says I must address them as khulid/kulid (as rebellion to apartheid racial constructions), I apologise and do as requested. If another person says not to use the term in front of them, I apologise and never use the term. I would like to acknowledge that I use the term problematically and that its root is anti-Black. The term is a white supremacist construction to divide and conquer people of colour. The term, along with all other racial categories, is a white racist invention that organised people into a racial hierarchy. Indian is better than coloured which is better than Black. All the while, the white man retains his supremacy while we hate and fight each other.

Identity politics are painful, fragile and tender in South Africa. Who are we? Personally, Blackness is a political identity I have assumed. Black Consciousness and decolonisation are tools to understand how my identity was constructed under white supremacy for a particular purpose in the empire. They are also tools I use to fight for my freedom and tools to destroy the system. Apartheid has not ended. In my opinion, Black people are those disenfranchised and marginalised under white supremacy. This means coloured people are also Black. And when I talk about Black liberation and reparations, I am also talking about coloured people. Even if your ancestors were slaves uprooted from Indonesia/India/the Islands, you deserve reparations. Again, these are my personal politics. It is not my place to prescribe or make commentary about the coloured identity. That would be arrogant. People must define themselves for themselves. This is part of liberation. I cannot impose myself on a diverse and complex community with multiple lineages and histories. My argument is simple, we must unite to defeat a common enemy that enslaves us.

However, I do think that there needs to be a conversation around anti-Blackness in the coloured community in South Africa. To close the doors of learning for young people because you do not want a Black principal at your school is violent and anti-Black. The argument posed is that coloured parents want a coloured principal because the school is in a coloured area. Again, the construction of neighbourhoods is a legacy of apartheid that sought to divide and conquer people of colour. This was also part of racist apartheid city planning that sought to put people of colour on the outskirts of the city. The idea of a ‘coloured area’ is a direct result of apartheid. These are the tough conversations we need to have around the internalisation of white supremacy and decolonising the legacies of colonialism and apartheid. Unfortunately, we cannot have these conversations if we pretend like these problems don’t exist.

I have made a very deliberate decision not to write on social media about the various violent experiences I continuously encounter. Sometimes, I want to write a Facebook status and vent about how dehumanised I felt after getting off a taxi or after a heated argument because I was ignored while asking for help in a store. I want to say, “f- this.” Why do ‘you people’ hate us so much? But I don’t think this would be useful either. But at some point, we need to have a conversation about the violent ways in which coloured people treat Black people and their hateful actions especially in Cape Town.

But the problem persists. Coloured people are offended and disgusted to be affiliated with Blackness. Blackness is inferior and subhuman. Even coloured people who have ‘Black features’ experience this hatred. Therefore, a conversation needs to be had that contextualises the origins of our identities under (colonisation/apartheid) white supremacy. The internalisation of white racism and white supremacy which result in anti-Black attitudes. And this conversation needs to take into consideration that these identities were constructed for us to hate each other and to divide us. The conversation cannot further divide us nor continue to do the work of the enemy.

The conversation needs our activists and our comrades to do the work in their communities by educating people about the nature of white supremacy. To do the calling out of their family members, friends, pastors and other community members. Those who have power and a huge amount of followers to publicly criticise anti-Blackness. For artists/creatives to deal with these issues in their work. Never to be defensive. To educate people about proximity to whiteness and privilege in the coloured community. We need their commitment in holding their own communities accountable to anti-Blackness. To hold people accountable without shaming or talking down. And most importantly, to do the work of unlearning racism and relearning within ourselves first.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect The Daily Vox’s editorial policy.

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons

10 Comments
  1. Garner Hills says

    With all due respect. I feel that you should leave the Coloured People to define themselves instead of trying to force your narrow definition on us. We are just that: Coloured People, neither black nor white. Please show some respect.

    1. Anonymous says

      Hi. She clearly states that she does not wish to impose any definitions on coloured people and that we should determine our own identity. Perhaps you should read the article again.

    2. Anonymous2 says

      In response to Garner Hill
      Extracted from the article
      “It is not my place to prescribe or make commentary about the coloured identity. That would be arrogant. People must define themselves for themselves. This is part of liberation. I cannot impose myself on a diverse and complex community with multiple lineages and histories. My argument is simple, we must unite to defeat a common enemy that enslaves us.”

    3. Missopinionated says

      I, as someone under the apartheid regime previously categorised as coloured, agree with the author. Even though I am tempted to say that not all coloureds are the same, or hold these heinous, ignorant prejudices – this is like when men say not all men are rapists/misogynists or when white South Africans say not all whites are racists – rather than defending the few who do not conform to the stereotype I would rather seek to understand the issues and how I may be complicit. On what grounds would you have ‘coloureds’ self-identify? Should we base it on colonial/apartheid misconceptions of the hierarchy of beings. Shall each family previously identified as coloured seek to do in-depth genealogies so as to quantify our genetic and national ancestories? Shall we continue to identify ourselves through the white supremecist paradigm that so many of us (and not just limited to coloured people) default to? Why is it so difficult to call ourselves Africans? I think it would be healthy and healing for the divided identities of blackness to pause, think and listen with empathy to each other and be open to finding the similarities, links and kinship between ourselves rather than continuing legacies of oppressive violence and self-destructive hatred. (Also a graduate from the African Gender Studies Department – wohoo!)

    4. Osh says

      she wasn’t defining you re-read the article, its so annoying how people comment about something that was written in the article. Duh!

      1. Missopinionated says

        {to Osh Says} I was responding to Garner Hill’s comment. In my first sentence I said I agree with the author. It is so irritating when people get obnoxious in the comments and reveal their ignorance or intellectual laziness.

  2. Emile Jansen says

    WE SHOULD NOT FORGET thats we are ALL VICTIMS of a horrible system that spanned 100s of years of indoctrination on all levels and its that same systems media that now misdirects us away from their continued economic, mental and spiritual exploitation of AFRICANS and AFRICA, like they did everywhere, so they have a genocide card to pull, when the masses finally realise where the real problem lies. YES, WE ARE ALL RACIST, because WE WERE & ARE BEING TAUGHT BY RACISTS DAILY, via their media (So-called “Indians” are a smaller minority, but have a TV show, while so-called coloureds do not have one show), schools, universities, books, libraries. We should acknowledge that we generally know very little about all of the history of our country beyond the Hegemony … Like the “Peter Jones” who was a so-called coloured bra that was with Steve Biko and a member of the Black Consciousness movement, when Biko was arrested and that Biko went to meet Neville Alexander. The fact that some of the ancestors of the so-called coloured people were also first nation, Bushman people and contributed to the creation of Afrikaans, which the Boers then stole and formalised as theirs. Thats in Afrikaans are Nama / Bushman words and in isiXhosa are the clicks of the Bushman as well and thus have common ancestry, but are from different times of resistance against the same white supremacy. Apartheids racism also dictates the learnt racism towards kullids as unreliable, half human, wannabe black, culture less, etc within the the so-called black community. In my travels to JHB I was shocked at the lack of unity that was now a tribal divide that is also not spoken about openly, nationally as much as the racism of coloureds.

    It is Steven Biko that said the best tool in the hands of the oppressor, is the minds(mines hahaha) of the oppressed. Its Malcolm X that said that only a fool allows his enemy to teach his children … Ben Kies said the same thing here in Cape Town many years ago … We need to to stop focussing on taking the blame and look at where this horrible illusion of race started and why its being promoted again. What are they about to do … I was also told that people of colour cannot be racist … so if we are all black, how is it that we are being racist? I thought that only those with power are able to be racists hahaha … Just messing with mense … I do agree that we need to interact more and step out of our constructed boxes, but we also need to be brutally honest about what we really know about each other and how we are still learning white supremacy and somehow leaving the unlearning of racism to people in our communities. BUT OUR AFRICAN INSTITUTIONS & MEDIA is left to play no role. Majorities are expecting benefit from being the majority and not being humane about the plight of minorities struggling to overcome the same beast. And need creates divisions, so those levels of blackness, is a real experience for many people. We cannot talk to each other, if w do not know ourselves and others heritage/ history and thus respect other enough. Assumptions is our current point of departure. I have been doing my bit to try and expand my communities sense of self-worth, so that they do not feel the need to disrespect others because of their own insecurities. And I want to say SORRY FOR ALL YOU EXPERIENCED HERE IN CAPE TOWN, but please be aware that its a real deep pain that has made an entire community hate themselves and blackness/ Africanism so much, that they project that hate at the blackness … believe me its projected within the so-called coloured community as well …hair texture, skin colour, lip size, nose size, etc is all real deep … remember that here in cape Town is here the DUTCH landed and impaled, hung, castrated, hunted, murdered, raped, etc the locals who were taught to fear themselves and being African long before others even arrived in Cape Town and the oppression continues by the 90% land owned by whites in this same place that these decedents of this PAIN still live … This is not an excuse, but a plea to overspend the depth of this … In closing I would have struggled with speaking to my community about blackness … coming form Black Noise Hip Hop Group … and have learnt that people need to be addressed from where they are and not from where we think they should be … hence “So-called Coloured/ Mixed Heritage Appreciation”, group on Facebook. The journey to dehumanisation is a long and slow crawl freedom for some … Blessed … PEACE …

    1. Emile Jansen says

      Sorry … some spelling errors … Overstand and not overspend (colonial spelling still rules) Also last line … The journey to REHUMANISATION spell-check made dehumanisation … colonised spell-check wins again hahahaha …

  3. Rivonia says

    This is well articulated. I believe the same can be said of the South African Indian community, never understanding their blackness, and holding onto an identity of a country most of them will never even see. The colonised mind is a scary and sad thing.

  4. Jan chudak says

    The chatter of a black racist mind.

    This semantic clutter is nothing but a collection of main-stream cliches: white racism, white privilege etc. Nowhere does it address black racism. Black privilege. Black supremely.

    HI story started before apartheid. The blacks had not invented the wheel or developed wrating, numeracy, let alone any science. That is their heritage.

    Read the racial IQ studies. The average black IQ is about 70. That’s borderline retarded. That is why they never developed anything of their own.

    So get over your peppercorn complex. Face it.

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