Being called a ‘coconut’ creates insecurities in my identity as an African person.
In my 20 years, I’ve been numerously referred to as a ‘coconut’, a term used to question my blackness due to aspects of me that people perceived as ‘white’.
The majority of this took place during high school, which I passively understood as an implication of being one of the few African students at a private school.
Being called a ‘coconut’ by my African peers because I had a twang when I spoke my mother tongue, placed me into an isolated bubble where I was “not black enough for the black kids” – a phrase used by Ariel Brown, in an article on BBC online.
It was important for me to feel reassured in my ‘blackness’ as my parents are African. Therefore, my race is the root of what connects me to my family’s history and values, which I have inherited.
I grew up having a complicated relationship with race, as I knew I was visually black because of my skin tone. However, I questioned myself internally, as I didn’t have the same cultural background as my cousins and African students. I had no recollection of playing in the street outside my grandmother’s house or being sent to the local spaza shop, as I spent most of my childhood in a different country.
The common characteristics of a ‘coconut’ seem to be speaking good English, getting a good education and living in the suburbs. As a result, ‘coconuts’ supposedly ‘neglect’ their African traits such as collectivism to fit in and rather gravitate towards ‘white culture’.
The association of these characteristics with whiteness does not shock me, as during apartheid these were the privileges that were afforded to white people and denied to people of colour.
However, in a progressive society, it is concerning that the characteristics of a ‘coconut’ cannot exist to strengthen the connotations of people of colour.
The negative stigma of African people as inferior still persists and is reproduced by people who use coconut in a derogatory manner.
Race exists on a spectrum due to the variations of cultures, ethnicities and upbringings in South Africa.
The mindset of trying to box racial characteristics was used by the apartheid government to justify oppressive treatment. So why do people of colour use the same logic to create prejudicial terms within their own race?
On a poll I did on my twitter account, which over 1 000 people participated in, 79% of them voted ‘yes’ to being referred to as a ‘coconut’.
Although the results from the poll aren’t representative of the whole society, the comments gave me insight into how this word commonly affects my peers.
Many people shared stories under my poll about how being called a ‘coconut’ made them feel alienated.
Enhakkore Bope said “It made me feel like my blackness was invalidated. Like I did not belong.”
The association with this term may be due to my generation’s access to spaces such as Model C schools, previously denied to our elders. ‘Coconuts’ are thought to “think they’re better than others”, a comment made by Ruvane Andreas under my poll, as he explained how growing up financially secure made him an outcast among his cousins.
I still feel insecure about my ‘blackness’ when I get called a ‘coconut’ by family members and peers because of the way I act and talk. I’ve accepted it – with much defiance, as a term that will continue to follow me. I may be a ‘coconut’, but I am still black.
FEATURED IMAGE: Zinhle Belle, a student journalist at Wits Vuvuzela. Photo: File.
- Wits Vuvuzela, Coloured students underrepresented in the Wits rainbow, March 2020
- Wits Vuvuzela, Rethinking black tax as more than a burden or Ubuntu, September 2019
- Wits Vuvuzela, We are ‘coconuts’, but there’s levels ‘bru’, September 2015