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Monday, July 25, 2011

[1057] diary of a coloured girl


I had every intention of writing an entry for the thousandth day of the rest of my life, but I spent that day in South Africa, where the Internet was quite hard to come by most days. I did almost all of my journaling by hand, which is actually something I love to do, but don't do nearly enough. I did, however, write a blog in text edit on the flight back home. I was thinking about race, naturally. How can one not after studying in South Africa? I learned a lot. So much, I could write a book and still not scratch the surface. I shall share the tiny inkling that I was able to articulate on my last day abroad with you now:

It's weird how time can simultaneously pass quickly and slowly. Considering the anticipation leading up to this trip, it's hard to believe it's over. The memory of sitting in the airport, awkwardly staring at a group of girls and trying to figure out if they were part of my team, is still fresh. They were, by the way. Things from the beginning of the trip are becoming hazy, though. It seems like forever ago that I surfed or that I petted lions. And now I'm headed home.

I'm a little sad to be losing my newfound "coloured" identity. At the airport in Johannesburg, a black salesgirl asked me if I was from Cape Town. I was buying a Cape Town magnet, which to me would've signaled tourist. But my appearance signaled otherwise to her. When I said that I was American, she wanted to know what I was (a question that, by the way, generally drives me crazy, so don't ask it). I wasn't exactly sure what to say, considering all I've learned about race in South Africa the past five weeks. When I looked baffled and stupidly muttered, "Um... what do you mean," she asked, "Haven't you got cultures in America?" Oh, sure. We have cultures. Some of 'em are even based on race. I don't have one of those. Finally I managed to explain, "Well, I guess you'd call me coloured. But my parents aren't coloured. My mom's black and my dad's white."

We talked for a little bit longer. She told me my husband must be hot, because the mix of "Chinese... I mean, Japanese, Japanese," is a good one. She was not so incredibly fond of the mix of Indian and white. I should have showed her a picture of Chelsea or Anil as a rebuttal. I swear, that can be a good mix. She told me her son was coloured, because his dad is coloured. In South Africa, bloodlines follow the father, so that's totally logical. In America, if either of your parents is black, you're black - especially if you're dark complected. Someone like me has a bit more ambiguity in racial status, but the one drop rule is mostly applicable. No one ever accuses you of not being true to your white roots as a mixed kid. You often get razzed for being a lousy black person, though. That's the way it is.

It was kind of fun having a race all my own in South Africa. Mind you, I think the concept of race is absolutely ridiculous and we should stop looking at it as being able to determine any more about us than our hair or eye color does, but it was nice that hardly anyone asked what I was, aside from this salesgirl. No one was trying to figure me out. I was just coloured. In Cape Town, where a large portion of the coloured population lives, the pushy salesmen at the markets would totally ignore me, assuming I was a local. It was glorious. No one wanted to hyphenate me. No one wanted to know what percentage of me is Irish and what percentage is black. That's not part of being coloured. I could get used to that. But, alas, it's back to the ambiguity of being mixed race in America for me. It'll take some getting used to. It'll also take getting used to not referring to every racially ambiguous looking person I see in America as coloured. I've already done it twice since leaving South Africa, and I haven't even landed at L.A.X. yet. This is a bad habit.