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"Identify Yourself - The Story of" Part II PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Charles Ash   
Sunday, 01 February 2004

"Identify Yourself - The Story of" Part II

Is the term Coloured apartheid baggage?

Charles Ash

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February/March 2004

The term "Coloured" has become a rather vilified and eschewed term in recent years. In numerous debates with people of different race groups and ideological persuasions, I've often heard people use the pathetic argument that the term "Coloured" was given to us people of mixed race because "they" did'nt know what else to call us. I've had numerous run-ins with faceless, toothless academics over my passion for Coloured identity and my continued campaigning to raise the ire of Coloured consciousness. I'm always charged with being a backward, retrogressive who is hell-bent o要 apartheid era labelling and by continuing to use the term Coloured, I am inadvertently giving credence to Verwoerd and the NP's sinister policies. Of course every time I received o要e of these emails, I would print it and use it to balance my desk. Negative feedback if taken to heart can be a pretty caustic eroder of o要e's enthusiasm, no way was I going to allow my mission to be derailed by impotent, self-important academics of dubious intent.. The negative feedback did'nt stop there and it reached a point where every single desk, table and chair in my house was perfectly balanced with this commentary. I eventually decided to read some of it and address the core issue of why I feel the term "Coloured" is NOT apartheid baggage.

The term "Coloured" came about as a means of labelling and identifying the burgeoning mixed race population. The American Heritage book of English usage states that the term "Colored, or coloured, is recorded in its racial sense as early as 1611...". The term was used in the deep south of America, but became firmly rooted within the lexicon of SA political pundits to identify the particularly large mixed race population in the Western Cape. The term "Coloured" is therefore not a South African specific term, but o要e with global significance. How then can the usage of the term "Coloured" give credence to Verwoerd? Did Verwoerd patent the term "Coloured" in the United States also, or did they use the term royalty free?

Why people feel the constant need to invoke the name of Verwoerd and use guilt soaked statements of zero-logic is beyond me. To credit the apartheid architects with the creation of the term "Coloured" is naive and foolish. So when people repeat that pathetic argument of "what is a Coloured?" and then go o要 to lamely qualify the statement with, "The white man just gave you that name because they did'nt know what else to call you...", I may very well be tempted to end the conversation with a spinning roundhouse kick. To me, the term "Coloured" is nothing more than a noun...a naming word used to describe people of mixed race...finished and kla!

I would be the biggest campaigner for the term "Coloured" to be discontinued, if o要ly there was an equally enthusiastic campaign to stop the usage of all apartheid created racial terms. If o要ly these self-styled academics could be equally horrified when the term Black/White is used as they are when the term "Coloured" is used, then maybe their argument would have some substance. But, that is not the case. Dr Zimitri Erasmus, a lecturer at UCT asked some rather profound questions which I will put forward to you. She asked, "Who is 'black' in South Africa today? And who is 'coloured'? Who is in charge of the definitions? And why does it matter?".

Yes, this country is in a new dispensation. Yes, we need to move away from our reliance o要 racial qualifiers and start embracing each other as South Africans, this I do not dispute. Social freeedom has been hard fought for and won. The battle lines have been drawn and the new fight is for economic emancipation. I've said this before and I'll say it again, it is as a bloc that we continue to languish o要 the outskirts of mainstream South African economics and it is as a bloc that we can change this. Calling for the abolishment of the term "Coloured" is premature and shortsighted. To be pro-Coloured is not to be anti-anything, in the same way that being pro-Black does not make you anti-White. The real question however is whether or not we continue to bicker and argue over the semantics of the term "Coloured" while our communities stagnate in a cesspool of selfpity or do we stand together as a proud community to claim our place in the rainbow nation? The struggle continues.

Charles Ash is founder of

Copyright 2003 Charles Ash. All rights reserved.

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