“He is here, our own; we have made him; we cannot wash our hands of him. When from under the beetling eyebrows in a dark face something of the White man’s eye looks out at us, is not the curious shrinking and aversion we feel somewhat of a consciousness of a national disgrace and sin?” (Author, Olive Schreiner, 1923 quoted by Dr. John Western, Outcast Cape Town)
A brown-skinned man, in Kiersten Dunbar Chace’s award-winning documentary film, I’m not Black, I’m Coloured – Identity Crisis at the Cape of Good Hope, made this statement, “The only sin is the colour of my skin.”
Ms. Chace capsulates the history of the mixed race people allowing each to voice his/her own struggle with racial identity in South Africa’s complex history.
Under the apartheid regime, the Brown people, were legally classified as Cape Coloureds. During the anti-apartheid struggle, younger “Coloureds” aligned themselves with the Blacks, unofficially reclassifying themselves Black. When the Black majority government came into power they told the “Coloureds,” “No, you’re not Black, you’re Coloured!” The story of the “Coloureds” has been that of perpetual marginalization.
Over centuries “Coloureds” have been demeaned and demoralized by the way others (particularly whites) regarded them – “a national disgrace and sin,” outcasts, half-breeds – not fit to be given a place in society.
My book, An Immoral Proposal, explains the struggle I had growing up with these attitudes. It took me over thirty years of being in an emotional “no-man’s land” to come to terms with my racial identity – and it’s still a work in progress.
It was an enormous boost to my self-esteem when in 1985, at my citizenship ceremony together with many others, Judge Kasurak of Windsor, Ontario, told us that on that day we became Canadian citizens, not second-class, not black or white, but Canadian citizens with the same rights as a native Canadian. I could finally shed the “Coloured” label in my adoptive land.
I hang onto Martin Luther King’s words in his “I Have a Dream” speech, “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.