by Anna-Karien Otto, Rhodes University
Politics Masters student, Danielle Bowler, wrote a paper exploring
contested constructions of colouredness, after being incensed by a
column written by Nomakula “Kuli” Roberts in a Sunday paper.
In a way, this was similar to what Frantz Fanon had referred to when he said he wrote Black Skin, White Masks after “the fire had cooled”.
An in-depth dialogue ensued when Ms Bowler, who co-wrote the paper
entitled “Contested constructions of colouredness in the Kuli Roberts saga” with Prof Louise Vincent, her lecturer, discussed the paper
with a small group of her peers at a seminar at the Sociology department
on Wednesday afternoon.
Jou Ma se Kinders: eish, I miss daai lippies vannie Kaap was published on 20 February in The Sunday World as part of Roberts’s weekly Bitch’s Brew column.
Bowler describes Robert’s portrayal of Cape coloured women in her
column as “a weak attempt at satire” and “summons every available crass
stereotype: coloured women are cigarette smoking, beer swilling,
drug-abusing, street fighting promiscuous drunks who wear hair curlers
in public and have no front teeth”.
The nation-wide discussion responding to the column, both online and
in the media, highlighted how stereotypes about coloured people are
still extensively in use which creates “ tension between reifying or
rejecting” those stereotypes.
Jimmy Manyi’s subsequent comment that there is an “over-supply” of
coloured people in the Western Cape- and suggesting re-location-
significantly strengthened the acerbity of the debate.
Bowler and Vincent chose the following quote by Grant Farred to
preface the introduction of the paper, forming the central argument:
“The concept of colouredness and its effects, the way in which it
informs the thinking, political responses, the voting tendencies, the
cultural particularities, the divided, bifurcated racial consciousness
of this South African constituency can only be understood if it is
publically ‘debated’, ‘extended’ (in the sense that it is subjected to a
demanding intellectual interrogation) and ‘quarrelled’ over and over
Bowler therefore argues: “Contemporary race thinking should be
debated to dispel voluntary or involuntary representations, which
masquerade as ‘common-sense’ classifications, which results in people
experiencing themselves as racial subjects.”
She feels this is compounded by how, when race is mentioned, one generally thinks of or refers to a black/white binary.
Using a metaphor employed by Farred in The Midfielders Moment, (2000), likening coloureds to midfielders in a soccer team, Bowler questions the “in between nature” of being coloured.
“The metaphor aptly summarises common sense constructions of coloured
identity: coloureds are seen to occupy the midfield of a racial
continuum with white people on one extreme of the continuum and black
people on the other.”
The intricacies of their tenuous position is further realised in how
“contemporary South Africa middleness, ironically, now also suffers from
the opposite effect: in programmes of redress and political and
economic empowerment some coloureds now experience themselves as not
quite black enough, damned in part by the dubious and meagre privileges
of being treated as coloured rather than ‘black’ by apartheid’s
Mentioning a popular song from Brazil, the title of which loosely
translates as ‘Everyone has a bit of colour in them’ she again
emphasised how it is important that coloured people decide how they want
to be defined as it is only through self-definition, introspection and
debate that there can be a real interrogation of what being coloured in
contemporary South Africa means.
Story and picture by Anna-Karien Otto