A LitNet book review: Off-centre and out of focus – Growing up “coloured” in South Africa by Nadia Kamies

When it comes to the naming in this book, I find using apostrophes around the term coloured problematic. While the term does stem from an apartheid ideology, it has been reclaimed by people who have taken pride in the landscape coloured people have started creating. We have also moved into a time where POC (people of colour) have discovered that we are allowed to reject the master narrative that imperialism has imposed, leaning into an existence which moves past this supposed idea that coloured people are living to prove themselves respectable. The subsequent culture torrent should not be attributed to the idea of mitigating shame or scandal, but rather to the need for representation and an identity far removed from what identities used to mean in South Africa – that is, the political meaning, of course.

The idea Kamies proposes is that we shouldn’t use the term because of what it used to mean. But if we do that, we erase a culture that has just begun to find its feet, and we leave that meaning incubated in the word, allowing that power still to exist. The use of the apostrophes, to me, indicates the sense that the word is incorrect, out of place, and that there’s a substitute to describe different group phenomena. We sometimes hate certain terms only because of the class system and stereotypes attached to them. But if we claim this term, as many have done both then and now, and contribute to the expansion of a coloured cartography, we end up in a place where we are able to be unbothered by identity and respectability politics. The mistake was that the onus in this book was placed on contesting the ideas of colouredness by weaving a tapestry of the good and bad. This collection unfortunately misses the mark of representation. Its framing, its tone and its spirit are, in my opinion, not of unity but of division. No matter how much valuable historical matter is presented, it is the existential meaning that is concerning. We need to stop defining identities in terms of what they lack; it’s undermining.

Read the full review here:

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Paul Kammies is a writer and interdisciplinary artist from Cape Town. He completed a BA (Humanities) degree at Stellenbosch University. With his writing and making of art, he hopes to cultivate capacity in people for empathy. Grapefruit is his debut poetry collection, dealing with exploitation, interpersonal relationships, and identity.

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