Where are you from? ‘Playing White’ under Apartheid

  • Language: English
  • 2016
  • 140 pages
  • Illustrations, map
  • Vol. 12
  • ISBN 978-3-905758-79-5
  • ISSN: 1660-9638
  • eISBN 978-3-905758-97-9
  • eISSN 2297-461X
Ulla Dentlinger

Where are you from? ‘Playing White’ under Apartheid

“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’ … The price we paid was anguish, constant fear of detection and 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 felt free to talk about it. This is certainly the first time I have ever written about it.”

With these words the fascinating story of Ulla Dentlinger’s life history begins. Growing up in poor, rural Apartheid-Namibia in the early 1950s, Ulla Dentlinger soon learns 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 incrementally. Nonetheless, after living in Namibia for the first six years of her life, she grows up in a white area in Cape Town, goes to a white school and bears herself in a German fashion. She has, in fact, jumped the colour line.

Returning to southern Africa in the 1990s, she now openly pursues investigations into her family background. Ulla Dentlinger portrays some of her relatives and their intimate, painful or straightforward stories as well as her own emotional realisation about her enriching heritage.


This book is published in co-operation with Brandes & Apsel

Ulla Dentlinger studied Social Anthropology at the Universities of Cape Town and Stellenbosch. After raising a family in Portland, Oregon, she and her family live in Germany today, with her spending time between Europe and southern Africa.

1 A tormenting Question
2 Rehoboth … Colourful and Controversial
3 Lena of my Childhood
4 Hedi’s Story
5 My Story
6 The Enssles and the Dentlingers
7 Where are We All From? “Humanity is Coloured”

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