Slice of life: Skin shapes the way I am

Why do I write? Being born as the light-skinned girl in a dark-skinned neighbourhood gives you an interesting perspective. You start to see people’s fascination with light skin. There was almost a sycophancy. Children want to be your friend. But I instinctively knew I couldn’t trust it.

I began to understand all kinds of assumptions people make of you. In the neighbourhood I grew up in, older kids would say: “You think you are better than us.”

My parents were, therefore, from very early on in my life, very protective of me. I was the youngest.

Also, nobody in my family looks like me. Except my father’s people, who are light-skinned. But my father is not light-skinned. My Aunty Beatty was dark, dark, dark, with an Afro, and a shock streak of grey hair. My Aunty Jerry, she was also dark. The rest of the sisters were light-skinned.

From an early age I was sent to speech and drama school and I was taught to elocute and be articulate. But I would never speak like that at home in Hanover Park because you would put yourself up for ridicule.

I didn’t run around pretending to be white. In fact, I remember at the age of nine my mother enrolled me at a visual arts school in Woodstock. I was the only black kid in the class, and there were all these kids who stared at me. And at some point, the kids must have plucked up some courage and asked: “What are you?” And to this day I don’t know how I arrived at the word coloured. Because as a nine-year-old that was something I never thought about. I don’t think I had ever heard the word before.

So a lot of these things shaped the way I perceive the world and how I respond to it. — Actor, performer and poet Khadija Tracey Heeger, as told to Lester Kiewit

We make it make sense

If this story helped you navigate your world, subscribe to the M&G today for just R30 for the first three months

Subscribers get access to all our best journalism, subscriber-only newsletters, events and a weekly cryptic crossword.”

Lester Kiewit
Lester Kiewit
Lester Kiewit is a Reporter, Journalist, and Broadcaster.

Related stories


Already a subscriber? Sign in here


Latest stories

Is the US supreme court bent on doing harm?

Two recent rulings by America’s apex court are profoundly troubling

Lights, camera, action!

Meet Kuda Jemba, the emerging film director who went from directing music videos for some of SA’s biggest stars to directing Kelly Khumalo’s upcoming reality show

War on diamonds: Toil and triumph on the rich barren...

“I’m willing to take a bullet” says Northern Cape natives who claim the land, and its diamonds, belong to them.

Shell v Wild Coast: Science, research and erring on the...

Court applicants have argued that the company should be required to conduct an environmental impact assessment, based on the best available science, which has advanced considerably since Shell’s permit to conduct seismic surveys was granted

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…