Coloured South Africans Don’t Have To Repackage Themselves For Anyone

September 26, 2023

Every two weeks or monthly, it feels, the conversation around South African Coloured identity is discoursed on TikTok. 

Looking at American politics and social history, it’s understandable why the very term would come as a shock and register offense. In the United States, the word “colored” (sans the u) was used to describe African-Americans as a way to others and segregate them from humanity. While the spelling is less relevant because it’s really more dependent on which English vernacular you use, let the u be an indicator that we’re talking about South Africa, for a moment.

Who is Coloured mean in South Africa?

For South Africans, Coloured is a term that identifies a community who have cultivated a culture, language, and overall identity that wasn’t related to their segregation, but rather to identifying the newly established community. 


#stitch with @Simone Umba #Coloured #CelebratingColoured #colouredculture #southafrica

♬ original sound – Tessa_G_Dooms

As a Black woman, it isn’t my place to overly insert myself into the Coloured community’s affairs and how they communicate their identity. At the same time, watching Americans incorrectly and unfairly recategorize or re-identify South African Coloured people based on their understanding of the term has been difficult. On the one side, I’m empathetic to that traumatizing history. On the other hand, I remember stories from when South African elders would discuss the impact of not being allowed to be themselves or honor their culture. 

Why are we talking about Coloured people on TikTok this time?

Coloured South Africans have a rich history that shouldn’t be renamed merely because they are being discussed or engaged from beyond South African shores. Perhaps the issue is that we aren’t being specific when it comes to introducing South Africans to their peers internationally. For instance, South African music sensation Tyla has gone viral with her latest record “Water”.

True to form, her identity is being discussed, but more specifically how she’s perceived in the US. Again, it’s understandable that marketing her in the US would lean toward placing her in close proximity to or directly in front of BIPOC communities. In fact, these communities likely share a multitude of commonalities with Tyla’s South African Coloured identity. Nevertheless, in trying to relate or understand, it’s important to remember that as a South African woman, her racial identity and heritage are not to be reimagined because the term “colored” dog whistles segregation in the United States.  


Western experiences can’t always be universalized. It’s weird to impose western ideals because you think we are clueless abt our own SADC history.

♬ original sound – Khahliso Amahle

South Africans have been very clear that the composition of the Coloured community is so diverse and draws from Africa, Europe, and Asia. Quite literally, they are of mixed races, but their Coloured heritage should not be misappropriated or misnamed to comfort or quell American sentiments. Simply put, that isn’t fair. For the past week or so, South Africans have been adamantly arguing that Coloured people in South Africa should not have to change how they communicate themselves to the world merely because it could be misinterpreted by Western nations. At the end of the day, if anything is taken from this, let it be that Coloured South Africans will tell you who they are, it’s just your job to listen. Finish and klaar (translation: “and that’s that on that”)!