Racial Limbo: A Systematic Study of the History of Coloured South Africans and their Contemporary Attitudes, Perceptions of Deprivation, and Racial Identifications
Laster, Whitney Nicole
I define racial limbo as belonging to a group positioned between a dominant and subordinate group in a racial hierarchy. Examinations of groups in racial limbo are important because they highlight hidden details of racial hierarchies and likewise reveal limitations of race theories. Yet, prior research is limited in scope, cohesiveness, and conceptual clarity. The purpose of this dissertation project is to investigate the concept of racial limbo by studying the history of coloureds in South Africa and examining coloureds’ contemporary attitudes, perceptions of deprivation, and racial identifications. First, I investigated whether the apartheid nation-state cultivated a position of racial limbo for coloureds and whether their intermediate position is maintained in post-apartheid South Africa. Analyzing a purposive sample of legislative documents, I found the apartheid nation-state held a powerful role in constructing racial limbo, but post-apartheid South Africa was less successful in deconstructing coloureds’ position of racial limbo. Next, analyzing two waves of the Southern African Barometer (SAB), I investigated whether the generalized attitudes and perceptions of deprivation of coloureds in post-apartheid South Africa aligned with their intermediate, historical position of racial limbo. I found that coloureds’ attitudes were significantly different from, and between, those of white and black South Africans; thus reflecting racial limbo. In contrast, I found that coloureds’ reported the highest levels of economic and treatment deprivation, suggesting coloureds’ perceived their position to be the most deprived. Finally, I investigated whether a multidimensional measure of coloureds’ racial identification (as compared to a single-item self-reported racial identification) better reflected coloureds’ position in racial limbo. Specifically, I conducted latent class analysis (LCA), using instruments theorized to capture the phenomenology of race, on coloureds in the Cape Town Area Study (CAS). The LCA extracted two classes, but the two coloured classes did not differ on criterion variables. Therefore, self-reported racial identification provides adequate traction for examinations of coloureds. Altogether, coloureds are, and continue to be, a group in racial limbo. I argue systematic examinations of groups in racial limbo reveal the constant tension between individuals’ agency in validating their own experience of race and societies that continue to determine race.