Someone asked me earlier this week, “do you have any issues with belonging?”
I thought for a while, before I answered this question. Where do I start? Do I start as a small child, with my parents getting a divorce? Growing up in my grandparents’ house? Feeling like I do not belong. Feeling loved, but alone. Different? Drop offs and picks up and play dates, at my grandparents’ house while other children live with a mommy and a daddy.
Do I start as a child, road trips to South Africa? Harassed at the border because I am too white to be the child of a dark brown man. Or holidays in St Lucia where we cannot stay unless my father’s white girlfriend makes the booking. Because otherwise, we will not get in.
Do I start where I attended “white schools” or an international school. Mixed. Diverse. But still I feel like an outcast when the Swazis in the room all talk our native tongue and I don’t understand. And me, a fan of rock music. Do I fit in with my brown friends now? Of course not. They laugh at me when Nirvana comes on. So, I learn to love R&B. I buy the brands they buy. I make myself more like them. To fit in. I lose myself.
Do I talk about the way our black “maid” and “garden boy” were treated? You drink from a separate cup. Do not use the inside toilet. Racism in my home? But what makes them any different to me?
Do I talk about when people ask me “yes but what are you REALLY?” when what they’re asking about is my skin tone. They want to know why I am so brown. Not my history or my nationality.
Do I start where I was too white to be coloured in the way that my friends were. “Oh, she has a white mother.” I am different from my mother and her family. I am different.
Do I talk about how I could not speak to my black gogo (grandmother – my great gran) in the only language she could speak. Because no one ever taught me the language. No one ever thought I needed to know. So we hug and kiss and communicate love with physical affection. She talks to me, and brushes my face, hugs me in and I wish with ever part of me I knew what she’s saying.
Or how officials called me Mlungu (white person) when referring to me – and having to be silent. How about the time they refused to give me my passport? Because I am too white to be SWAZI. A lost feeling of emptiness. What am I then? Where do I belong, if not my home?
Or do I start when I moved to Cape Town. To attend the best University. And suddenly. I am a different kind of coloured. This time, not Cape-coloured enough. I do not speak with the “right” accent. I do not look the same or eat the same food. I do not belong all over again.
I go home for holidays and my brothers call me white. They have the SAME genetic makeup as me. But they consider themselves coloured. But not me. I question them until it turns into a fight. Turns out they cannot explain what they mean. We change the subject for the sake of our relationships.
Or do I talk about how before meeting my new boyfriends parents, my well-meaning grandpa says to me “make sure they know you’re coloured” he’s trying to protect me from a world that always divides. I feel annoyed. The comment stings. Why would that matter? But of course, he was right.
Oh, they say, but you’re not a REAL coloured.
This cuts me like a knife. WHAT THE FUCK IS A REAL COLOURED????? I want to scream. And they mean it as a compliment. I don’t know if I should be offended or relieved. All I feel is angry. I am a real coloured. This is who I am. I am me.
Mixed race. Not white enough. Not black enough. Not even coloured enough. FUCK this world.
All I do is feel out of place. All I want is to belong. So I decide, the only way I’m ever going to belong is if I stop caring about fitting in and just embrace who I am. I am proud of my blood, of my genetic make up, of my brown skin that makes people compliment me on my tan. I am proud of who I am and no, I don’t fit so easily into boxes. So fuck the boxes they created. I don’t need them. I am me. I am brown. I am mixed race. I am Swazi. I am South African. I am who I am.
So I think for a while, as she waits for my answer… do I have any issues with belonging?
She means as a migrant. As a Swazi/ South African in New Zealand and I think, what a loaded question to ask…
and I answer…
“Where do I even begin….”
More I’ve written on this issue…