BY PERCIVAL QUINA
*Percival Quina is currently doing his Honours in International Studies.
I watched the premiere episode of a TV-series called Mixed-ish. As race is the central issue that this series deals with, this episode left me immediately reflecting on my own identity. I cannot account the amount of times I have been asked: “So, what exactly are you?”. Nor the amount of times I was left unable to honestly answer that question. For quite some time I thought of discovering my identity as a destination. Something that I will eventually reach and be truly sure of. I am only realising now that discovering your identity is a journey. I am 22 years old and the fact that I still cannot answer what seems to be a simple question to some means that I honestly do not know who I am.
Since forming part of the Stellenbosch environment in January 2016 as a first-year, and throughout my years in this environment, I was fighting an identity war. Not just internally, coming to terms with my sexuality and dealing with my race, but also externally, explaining to people something that I myself do not even know and am not truly sure of. Many people look at me and assume, based on my dark complexion that I can speak an African language. The truth is, my home language is Afrikaans (and yes, to some this might be a surprise). Every single time when I tell this to people I am left feeling like I disappointed and denied some part of myself. See, my grandmother was a coloured woman and my grandfather a black, Xhosa man. Their reality was totally different from my reality. I cannot imagine how difficult it must have been raising children of colour in the Apartheid years.
Even worse, raising children of colour in what was then a predominantly Afrikaans forestry town called Knysna. They decided to teach their children to speak Afrikaans instead of Xhosa hoping that this will allow their kids to have an easier life in a predominantly Afrikaans town (however, this was not the case). Today, here I am. Not sure how to answer a simple question. Too dark to be considered coloured and too Afrikaans to be considered black. I am left not knowing which box to tick at the Home Affairs office. Either way, it feels like I am betraying a part of me. I acknowledge that being in this situation offered me some privileges that few have. I grew up being exposed to a rich and complex culture unlike any other in the world. I was also able to access certain “Afrikaans spaces” that most people who look like me are blocked out of.
This identity war is still raging. To you, this question might be extremely straightforward but to me, it is a complex one. One that leaves me with sweaty palms and a racing heart because what if I choose the wrong identity?… Why do I have to choose in the first place? I hope that one day I will fully embody James Baldwin’s words when he said: “It took many years of vomiting up all the filth I’d been taught about myself, and half-believed before I was able to walk on the earth as though I had a right to be here.” Up until now this label and identity obsessed world are not allowing me to win this war.