I have always been the type that seeks to discover myself deeply. This includes looking at my ancestry and the cultures that have formed me. As a mixed-race person, that has proven difficult. In South Africa, I fall under the racial group, Coloured, which was created during Apartheid. Coloured people have mixed European, African, and Asian ancestry due to the mixing of colonial settlers, the enslaved, and native peoples. Coloured communities have their own culture that has risen out of a rich multi-racial heritage. It is ambiguous and heterogeneous in terms of skin color, language, religion, and culture.
However, I have always found myself in search of my roots. What type of European or African ancestry do I have? What are the different cultures that am I connected to? These questions plague my mind as I search for who I am.
Already, due to the multi-ethnic roots of being Coloured, I find myself in-between Black and white. A very specific marginalized status that many Coloured people feel. This is not only a complex experience of race that informs my identity and belonging in the world at large. But to complicate things I also experience a sense of profound displacement from my maternal heritage. My mother, who is half-Coloured and half-Indian, doesn’t have a relationship with her father. As a result, I have never been exposed to or had a personal connection to Indian culture.
However, I find myself longing for the culture and heritage I have never personally experienced. But can I claim Indian culture as my own? I know that my heritage assumes that I can, but I feel like an impostor when I try to immerse myself in the culture I have no personal relation to.
I often cook with Indian spices to get a taste of how my aunties’ foods may have tasted. I delved into Ayurveda, an ancient Indian medicine system, to discover how my ancestors would heal themselves. I was drawn to Buddhism and Indian philosophy which felt like an extension of my own thoughts. I watch Indian TV shows and Bollywood films to capture a glimpse into a world that is so foreign to me.
These seemingly small acts are the leaps I take to feel closer to my heritage. Yet, I feel unaccepted and excluded from it.
I stumbled upon the term Racial Impostor Syndrome, which describes the feelings that biracial or mixed-race people experience as they exist in the intersection of different cultures and identities. We often feel like we are frauds or impostors in the races we are mixed with. For example, someone may be white-passing, but half-white and half-Black, and feel that they can’t claim Black culture as their own. Or for me, it is seen in my distinct hesitation to wear a sari, fearing that I will be told I do not belong.
The inconsistencies in the social construction of race are evident when mixed-race people find themselves in the in-between spaces of culture, identity, and belonging. We are proof of the fickleness of race yet the importance of the cultural and social implications that are linked to it.
I often wonder if I will ever fully embrace all the racial parts that make me up. I just hope that one day I will be given the space by society to explore my racial heritage and celebrate all of its beautiful parts.
Please donate to the District Six Museum in Cape Town, South Africa that has been heavily impacted financially by the COVID-19 pandemic. The District Six Museum has been a center for commemorating South African history, including Coloured history. It is an important part of our community and cherishing our heritage.
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