by Lilly Quin
I am a self- proclaimed keyboard activist. I like and share with a ferocity that is often counter-productive. Yes, I am that Facebook friend. I have attended a handful of protests yet have signed hundreds of petitions. I am an online supporter for the most part. However, this article has found its way to formation through both necessity (I want to pass my journalism course) and a niggling feeling that I should probably use this voice I’ve been given to try to do something good. I was 10 years old the first time I encountered an official disregard for my identity. I had hoped, by this time, more room would have been made for those of us who do not fit into binary categories. I was told, again, that what I am was not one of the options available. I didn’t want to be difficult, so I kept quiet and moved on. Even though it wouldn’t have changed the situation, I wish I had spoken up in defence of inclusivity. Hindsight is a bastard we all know and hate.
In 2017, Rhodes University still has no option for students of mixed or foreign race outside of the four categories that were used to group our society during the Apartheid era.
“One of the stories I remember was being in the butchers, and I was little and my mom was busy buying meat and all of that, and she was being helped. Somebody came and asked me, ‘Oh, can I help you?’, and I said, ‘No…I’m with them’ and then getting those strange looks like… ‘Okay?’” Psychology Lecturer Natalie Donaldson, who has dual Indian and White heritage, took some time to talk with me about intersectional, non-
binary minorities and the issues arising from a lack of formal acknowledgement. Donaldson related the above encounter to me when discussing how mixed-race children, and multiracial families, often have to assert and “prove” their biological ties. In this instance, the staff in the butchery assumed she was not the child of the adult they were serving because her skin was a different colour. There was an inability to make the connection between adult and child, and fathom that a white woman could have a brown child. I mean, how? In 2017, Rhodes University still has no option for students of mixed or foreign race outside of the four categories that were used to group our society during the Apartheid era. This means that any student or staff member who does not identify as White, African, Coloured or Indian is not officially recognised.
The lack of acknowledgement makes it difficult for Mixed-Race people to own their identity, particularly in a country where many people are still opposed to your very existence.
Conversations about race have the tendency to make South Africans roll their eyes. Unfortunately, 22 years into Democracy, there has been no provision made for the categorisation, and therefore recognition, of people born into multi-racial families, or those who do not fit the prescribed categories. These categories are the same ones set out by the Apartheid government. We are still required to divide and group according to their binary concepts of race. Some government forms include an “Other” category which is meant to suffice for all who do not fall under the pre-existing categories. This literally excludes and ‘others’ an entire portion of the population. The category is so nondescript it is offensive. There has been no effort made to acknowledge these many combinations of races that, although now legal, are definitely not new. The lack of acknowledgement makes it difficult for Mixed-Race people to own their identity, particularly in a country where many people are still opposed to your very existence.
Whilst other democratic countries debate the implementation of transgender bathrooms in schools, Rhodes University still only offers four options of racial categories. The ‘other’ which is an option at most state high-schools, is not even present. Desiree Wicks, manager of the Student Bureau at Rhodes explained that forms were government regulated and that the university is required to comply. Although I understand the premise of this, it is not-inclusive and I believe that more could be done. Wicks informed me that international students, many of whom were also offended by the lack of appropriate options, have previously raised the issue. The issue has been quashed and dealt with in a bureaucratic ‘it’s not our problem, we can’t do anything about it’ manner. I reject this and call on Rhodes to use its voice to encourage reform within our University and society as a whole. The scale of this is not lost on me; however, tertiary education institutions have historically played a vital role in progressive thinking, and the inclusion and recognition of minorities.
In 2013, I was congratulated and asked “Where did you get your lovely tan!?” I sardonically replied “My father.” My friendly fan’s smile faltered as she looked at my mother, trying to understand. She was given no respite. I was determined not to explain. I am tired of having to answer the same questions. Yes, I do mind you asking. No, it’s not the same as Coloured. Yes, it is ‘normal’ and deserves to be recognised. I’m not asking for your approval or understanding but I will be acknowledged. In a survey of a dozen diverse students, only one noticed there were only four categories available. Most agreed that this was problematic and all believe Rhodes should fight to amend the forms to be more inclusive. Out of the 12 students surveyed, many were unsure what mixed race was while some believed it to be coloured. In a university as ‘woke’ as ours, this is surprising. The lack of recognition regarding Mixed-Race identity has led to a lack of awareness. As Donaldson said, it “further perpetuates the disregard and invisibility of the bi-racial identity.”
I am not accepting that it is solely up to the government and that Rhodes has no choice. If that were true, reform would never take place. Ours is a multiracial society that is expanding and progressing. The government must recognise this and Rhodes has a stronger voice than I do. Through this article, I had hoped to find an answer, or perhaps even a solution. I’ve ended up with more questions, a headache-inducing amount of frustration and a determination that, if it lasts, will push me to fight through the bureaucracy of Rhodes University. Everyone deserves to be seen. A box to tick is small step in the right direction.