"...the issue of identity is such a key component of my work, and considerations around cultural identity has permeated much of my conversations and experiences
Consummate Entertainer, Social Activist, The Original Mr Let's Fix It, Soli Philander shares some of his insights with regards to the identity of self in a Coloured context.
I'll admit I have the oddest conversations with myself. This afternoon for no reason whatsoever (technically that's not true for the issue of identity is such a key component of my work, and considerations around cultural identity has permeated much of my conversations and experiences of late, I suppose the fact that is an election year has exacerbated the inclination) but an ungaurded moment between tasks suddenly catches me pondering when first I realised I was Coloured. Not the nature, appropriateness or context of the label, but the realisation that a certain reference, a particular judgement or group expression pertained to me personally. I suppose it's a question everyone asks themselves about the context that they were schooled in and we all have to work out for ourselves how to fashion our limited knowing into a viable construct for living within our integrity. Whether we choose to outright reject the limitations of our upbringing; work at re-fashioning our interactions into respectful, meaningful relationships; or walk the delicate balance of compromise - there comes a phase in our journey where we choose our approach, conciously or not, and steer our course. When we cannot advance until we've made that choice.
Choice of course, serves us best when informed, therefore in the instances where we're making life-choices, it would be best to approach it with a good grasp of self. And for the self to exist, there has to be a separation from the group identity. I don't remember growing up thinking 'I am Coloured'. I was too busy trying to work out this business of just being me. Yes, I saw it on official documents bearing my name; yes I could tick most of the boxes on a requirement list for describing a Coloured person; and certainly the consequences of the labelling was all up in my face; but I somehow managed to avoid all that settling on my shoulders.
By the time I got to theatre, I had dabbled in performance, done a fair amount of wandering through 'intellectual' circles, and knew politics was not for me. The story of the late, great Jean Naidoo is one for another time and as sole subject. Suffice to say that after taking me on a rollercoaster ride in the very first theatre production I was in; After mapping for us routes through our experiences to expression; after doing this all about, with and because of Coloureds; In the midst of my first hit at a life-time addiction - I ask her for advice. To tell me something for my career. 'Never forget where you're from' she responds.
I don't know if I realised it then, but I know now that is when I realised I was Coloured. I was flush with the impossible rush of successful performance -virgin and by all accounts impressive - and I felt like I'd found home. And here was this woman ascribing it to something I had until then not considered a resource. And haven't stopped since. And while the pessimistic picture painted of the bulk of The Coloured Experience in Cape Town by especially mainstream media (and yes, I'm sick of justifying this perspective so if you don't like it remember I am talking about my perception); the fruits of oppresion and second-class citizenship has come to pass; and access and opportunity still sounds like a foreign tongue to many - and are factors we must add to our evaluations when considering behaviour in the Coloured community - it has to be remembered that just because people were treated as less, doesn't mean they were less. Even those who believed the conditioning.
That there is how we wish people would respond to lack and deprivation and then there's how they do.
That the problem is not with who people think they are or are not, but capability around their desires and needs being met.
Otherwise most Coloured people are quite happy being Coloured. They're just gatvol of being poor Coloureds.
Truly, I wouldn't want to change anything about how I was raised except maybe add some more money and resources. But I loved, and I was loved.
And learned to appreciate somebody else so I can appreciate me.
And that in a perfect world the touches that would move my heart would be something evocatively Coloured. And it would need the South African context to make sense.
I like conversing with myself