Friday, July 22, 2011

Coloured Identity and Zimitri Erasmus

An individual is defined by their identity, but what exactly does this mean? The concept of identity is one that is a broad context as it relates to a racial, cultural, societal and political identity. In South Africa, the term identity is a contested one especially with reference to the historical context of the country. Individuals were defined and segregated by racial groups under the apartheid system in order for the ‘white’ race to be the superior race. When South Africa became a democracy in 1994, the concept of racial identity was slowly being replaced the concept of cultural identity. One racial group in South Africa that was confused and never quite understood very well was the ‘coloured’ race. The term ‘coloured’ was given to a group of people who were of mixed descent and formulated through miscegenation. They were, on racial grounds, the mid-point between the ‘white’ and ‘black’ racial groups. Researchers of the ‘coloured’ race relate their roots back to the Khoi-San. Some elements, however, are not discussed with regard to their cultural identity.

The concept of ‘coloured’ identity is a factor that has been discussed in order to explore the historical perspective of South Africa and the people that live within it. This relates to the historical context of slavery and the domination of ‘white’ superiority in South Africa. Zimitri Erasmus explores the concept of ‘coloured’ identity in a book she complied of essays by various South African authors and academics titled, Coloured by History, Shaped by Place. Erasmus begins the book with an introduction where she explains the concept of ‘coloured’ identity and how it shapes South Africans who were defined by the term ‘coloured’ under the apartheid system. She uses her own experiences as a ‘coloured’ female to define the concept of ‘coloured’ by stating that she felt as though she was consigned to being a “half-caste outcast” (Erasmus, 2001: 13). She goes on further to explain that as she faced the possibilities of respectability and shame with regard to her racial identity as a ‘coloured’ (Erasmus, 2001: 13).

The term ‘coloured’ did not only relate to the racial identity of a ‘coloured’ person but also their cultural identity (Erasmus, 2001: 14). According to Erasmus, and the apartheid system in South Africa (Hendricks, 2001: 29), a ‘coloured’ person was considered to be more privilege than a ‘black’ person but “not quite [the] white” person (Erasmus, 2001: 14). The cultural identity of the ‘coloured’ has also been associated with negative connotations such as drunkenness and sexualised shame (Erasmus, 2001: 14). The identity, however, is reconstructed by the people themselves according to their beliefs, morals, values and attitudes. This, however, differs from one person to the next as there is no set definition as to what it is to be a ‘coloured’ person in South Africa. The label ‘coloured,’ therefore, is not only a term that was imposed on a group of ‘mixed’ race people by the apartheid system but is made, re-made and constructed by ‘coloured’ people themselves “in their attempts to give meaning to their everyday lives” (Erasmus, 2001: 16). Criticism of the ‘coloured’ race are, however, still prevalent and existent in South Africa. For example, ex-wife of former South Africa president F.W. de Klerk, Marike de Klerk, referred to ‘coloured’ people as a “‘negative group,’ ‘the leftovers,’ and as ‘people that were left after the nations were sorted out’” (Erasmus, 2001: 18). This is a result of why ‘coloured’ people are left with the problem of defining their racial and cultural identity.



Erasmus, Zimitri, 2001, “Re-imagining coloured identities in post-Apartheid South Africa,” Coloured by History, Shaped by Place: New Perspectives on Coloured Identities, Zimitri Erasmus (ed.), Kwela Books and South African History Online.

Hendricks, Cheryl, 2001, “‘Ominous’ Liaisons: Tracing the interface between ‘race’ and sex at the Cape,” Coloured by History, Shaped by Place: New Perspectives on Coloured Identities, Zimitri Erasmus (ed.), Kwela Books and South African History Online.






No comments:

Post a Comment