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Where are you from?

'Playing White' under Apartheid

by Ulla Dentlinger

My family did the unthinkable: after getting away with ‘playing white’ for some years, we went one step further and ‘jumped the colour line’. By various obscure and not well-documented processes, we changed our ‘racial classification’ from ‘coloured’ – as defined by the apartheid policy of the day –to that of ‘white’. We juggled colour … The price we paid was anguish, constant fear of detectionand a sacrifice of family connectedness. The decades-long process of becoming completely comfortable with my ultimate identity was psychologically so unnerving that I have only recently feltfree to talk about it. This is certainly the first time I ever write about it.

Ulla Dentlinger’s life history begins in poor, rural apartheid Namibia of the early 1950s. Growing up in the Rehoboth Baster territory, she early on discovers that her parents are not prone to reminisce about their family’s past. The most mundane information about their background is guarded much like a state secret. As a child, she begins to panic at being asked the question so normal to others: Where are you from? Only in later years it dawns on her that she had to be a ‘Coloured’. The sense of conflict increases immeasurably. By then she is growing up in apartheid South Africa, but now in a ‘white’ suburb of Cape Town. She goes to a ‚white‘ school and bears herself in a German fashion. She and her family had, in fact, jumped the colour line. Returning to southern Africa from the United States in the 1990s, she now openly pursues investigations into her family background. In this book, Ulla Dentlinger portrays her wider family – some who simply ignored ‘race’ and colour, others who opposed it and those who dodged or tolerated it. Their intimate, painful or straight-forward stories and recollections lead her to the emotional realization of the wealth of her heritage and its final acceptance.

ISBN 9783905758795 | 142 pages | 244 x 170 mm | 2016 | Basler Afrika Bibliographien, Namibia | Paperback


eBook ISBN: 9783905758979



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