HR: "How do I put this diplomatically? Ummmm ... we have equity targets and need to know ... errrr ... well, we need to know what you consider yourself to be."
Me: "What do you mean? I don't consider anything. I am as I appear."
HR: "I appreciate that but we have an equity audit and the government needs to know. Do you consider yourself Indian or coloured?"
Me: *incredulous blank stare*
HR: "I was asked to put this question to you because we are not sure what to put you down as. You may look Indian but then coloured people can look Indian."
Me: "During apartheid my race was defined for me. My sister was given an Indian identity number and I was given a Cape Malay identity number. But this government does not have a category for being abused into race categories, right? Or being made to be between races by the old oppressive population registration laws."
HR: "No they don't. So would you say you are coloured then?"
Me: "No I would not say I am coloured even though up until I was sixteen I grew up in what was a coloured suburb. My dad who was registered Indian was arrested one night for being an Indian and living in a coloured house. It was ugly. My mother's uncle who was registered as a 'Cape Malay' turned him into the police after a family dispute over where my great-grandmother who was said to be Cape Malay should live."
HR: "That must have been a strange night. So what exactly do you consider yourself? We have a deadline to meet and we must show proof that we are meeting our equity targets."
Me: *Shaking my head in disbelief* "It is funny that this process of re-racialisation is so important to our black government now that we are supposedly free. So really all that is needed is for me to acquiesce to pressure and collapse my being and the struggles that were fought to bring me this far into an apartheid derived racial box."
HR: "These things are funny I know. We put people into boxes I know. We all have to live with things as they are. Even when we don't like what it says or means."
Me: "Yeah and we do so even now that apartheid is over. We free but we still racially contain ourselves in the nonsense that betrayed our humanity. Is there a category there to explain that I lived in the US for 26 years? And in that time I was Greek, Mexican, Arab, black, and whatever else anyone wanted me to be. At least in the US I could always opt out and just tick 'other' when my race or identity was queried."
HR: *puzzled stare* "Ummm no there is no such category for living in America or outside South Africa but they do provide a box that says 'other'."
Me: "I know that is what I ticked when I started the HR registration process when I entered here 3 months ago. I thought that would be enough."
Hr: "I know you did. That is why we called this meeting to talk to you about what you put down. We have to meet equity requirements and the government is strict about how people are classified so we need to be certain that what you indicated falls inside of the racial classifications made available to us."
Me: *We going nowhere stare*
HR: "So Ridwan, what exactly do you consider yourself? What should I put down or do you need more time to think about it? Please. We are expected to file our report in two days."
Me: "I guess the whole spiel about being a nonracial country is just politics hey? Perhaps like for outside consumption. Or, since we are mostly folks who are not white here at the job maybe the government is really trying to make sure that white people are receiving fair treatment."
HR: "No not really. We are just doing our jobs and need to know for record purposes. So what should I put down?"
Me: "Well I guess 'Cape Malay' like my mother and her ancestors were defined by the whites. And Indian too 'cause my dad's people, who are my people too, are from India about hundred and fifty years ago. My dad never made it to India and no-one in India knew him before he passed but he was classified 'Indian'. My mother is not even sure why she was classified as 'Cape Malay' because she was born in Port Elizabeth and she has never even met anyone who is really Malay but she knows a few aunties in Athlone who could pass for being 'Cape Malay' ... "
HR: "There is no Cape Malay category. Just Indian or coloured. Should I say coloured?"
Me: "So my mother's people have disappeared? All those folks from District Six and Malay Camp in Kimberley do not exist in the new South Africa?"
HR: "Not really. Most of those people just choose the 'coloured' category because it is easier for record purposes."
Me: "So coloured is a catch-all group for those who do not belong. Not white enough for the apartheid whites and not black enough for the post-apartheid blacks. This is indeed a strange time hey? I barely existed in race terms before 1994 and now I find out that my entire being is e-raced by the need to put me into an equity target, or rather trap as I see it.
HR: "I guess we should just say coloured and see what happens."
Me: "I am not coloured and never have I ever been coloured. Not for the white massa or the black massa that wants to define me as an equity target. Is there a Muslim category because that would solve it all?"
HR: "You know there is not."
(Please God, take me to another space. I'm about done here.)