Am I Coloured Enough? : Making Headlines Beyond My ‘Light Skin’ Privilege
This past weekend in the spirit of Youth Day in SA, I made the front page headlines for an article on successful young South Africans. Guys, I work so hard and so honestly, if I do say so myself. This article really made me feel great and felt like an honest reflection of who I am today. 2017 has seen as much professional growth for me as personal growth. I’ve really stayed in my lane, been unapologetically myself, taken baby steps toward all-round success and happiness in every area in my life and it feels incredibly good. Praise to my Creator, for months now even though life is far from perfect, I have a feeling of permanent physical feeling warmth and happiness in my heart and the pit of my stomach. It’s a feeling I have never had for this long in my life, it was always just fleeting moments that came and went.
Another way I’ve grown is I’ve turned into an all-round happier person with thicker skin. Mean cyber comments still annoy me, but they don’t get to me anymore and I find most of them funny and see it as that person’s problem, not mine. This past weekend though, a typical big mouth Tweeter made me want to address an accusation that made me wonder who else shared their opinion. Not because I need approval or have self-doubt, but more so I was curious as to how many people (still) shared this sentiment which I’ve been told about myself before. In a nutshell, this person felt I’m not a fair representation of coloured women (a race of mixed race people in South Africa), and that my fair skin and not-curly-enough hair made me “privileged” and that was the real reason why I book campaigns; because I have “Eurocentric” features working to my advantage. I read this tweet moments after purchasing the newspaper I was in, where I coincidently address issues of racism and equality. Anyway, it was said that there should be more darker skinned women with “type 3/4 hair” on the jobs myself and other coloured women like Nadia Jaftha book because coloured women don’t really look like us.
It was both the dumbest but also the most fair argument I’d heard in a long time. She was right; I don’t look like most coloured women, and darker coloured women should be more present and celebrated in mainstream media.
I don’t look white yet my skin is fair. I have Malaysian and Turkish roots that peek through my features and yet I don’t even look like most Cape Malay women either (Cape Malay being the Muslim “sub-race” to which I belong). Also, basically no one is my height. This wasn’t news to me. Since I was 14, as a young lanky teen giant modelling agencies would scout me, then simultaneously say “we don’t know what to do with you because you’re not white or coloured or even Asian enough”. I’ve always wondered what that’s supposed to mean? If you’re mixed race in South Africa, you are coloured, end of story. Trevor Noah considers himself a very concentrated version of a coloured person due to his white father and black mother. Our race is actually SO beautiful, a rainbow nation within itself, with some people who are coloured but look black, while others look white, and some look Asian, among many other variants. Foreigners always find this concept fascinating and incredibly cool. That being said, how on earth do you establish what a “real” coloured person should look like, and who should be the poster children for it?
Her point was fair, because the South African coloured race is SO varied, there isn’t just one look or shade to define it. Furthermore, overall, there should be more coloured people present in marketed media. I’ve always felt strongly about this, which is why I’ve always felt so proud being able to represent my race exactly as I am. It felt wonderful knowing I could forge a new path, my own path and put myself out there despite being told for half of my life I’m “not-coloured-enough”. As for the other girls who fit the “coloured-enough” mould but aren’t being represented, are talented as hell all round and not being recognised for it, where are they? Do they exist? If so, please send me their details – I’d honestly like to hook them up with the right people to change this. At the same time though, if this type of girl doesn’t exist, it doesn’t make me less deserving or mean I have low-key underlying white privilege.
Everything I have and own has come from pure hard work and determination. I mean, did my light skin pull all those all-nighters working on organic content while the rest of my body slept? Does my silky hair spend 8 hours+ editing videos for me, many of which are not commissioned? Does my modest dress sense get me as many likes, followers and jobs as those bikini-clad girls who bare it all? Quick story: when I was a 22 year old flight attendant, I was awake for three days straight due to jet lag, then worked a 12 hour shift to Narita, Japan, and travelled for hours to Tokyo just so I could go and shoot street style in Harajuku for the only hour I had free. I fell asleep on the train, missed my stop and woke up in a village. That was the extent I went to for my non-sponsored content, and my “Eurocentric” features were of little comfort then, especially when I got back to the hotel, changed into uniform and worked my way back on the flight home.
My point is, regardless of what I look like, or what I’m good or bad at, for years I continued to go to my own personal lengths and push myself, slowly, steadily and honestly in everything I do. I’d like to think that makes me aspirational. I’d like to think that makes me a great representation for honest, hard-working young women. And despite what insecure people and mainstream marketing says, I’d like to think that makes me a great coloured.