South Africa’s Tyla Sparks Cultural Debate Over Racial Identity

South Africa’s Tyla Sparks Cultural Debate Over Racial Identity

Amid a cultural controversy, Tyla, South Africa’s emerging music sensation, finds herself at the center of an online debate surrounding the term she employs to express her racial identity – “coloured”.

Before ascending to stardom, the 21-year-old artist shared a TikTok video proudly discussing her mixed-race heritage. In the video, she styles her coily hair into Bantu knots, adorned with a traditional beaded necklace, boldly declaring, “I am a coloured South African.”

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Tyla explains that being “coloured” signifies her diverse cultural background, intending to share a facet of herself with her audience. However, the video has triggered a heated response, particularly in the United States.

Americans perceive the term as a slur, in contrast to Tyla’s South African community, where it is recognized as a legitimate aspect of their culture. In South Africa, “coloured” is an officially recognized distinct identity.

A US user on X (formerly Twitter) commented, “We are not gonna call her coloured here, and if she personally demands it, her career will end before it begins. She’s trying to cross over into an American market; she won’t be able to use that word here; she can use it somewhere else though.”

In the US, the term is associated with the Jim Crow era, marked by segregationist laws in the southern states aimed at oppressing black Americans after the abolition of slavery. Facilities like water fountains, toilets, and bus seats were labeled “whites only” or “colored only.”

However, due to their mixed heritage, the coloured community sometimes faced derision and dismissal in a system fixated on categorization. Marike de Klerk, the late wife of apartheid South Africa’s last president, once described the coloured community in the context of the regime’s segregation laws as “the people that were left after the nations were sorted out. They are the rest.”

Out of this complex history, individuals like Tyla, identifying as coloured, have woven a rich cultural tapestry.

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