Sandra Laing (1955- ) was a black girl born to white Afrikaner parents in South Africa back in the days of white rule and apartheid, of keeping the races apart.
It seems that her white father was her true father: blood tests showed that his blood matched hers. Sandra also looked too much like her brother Adriaan, who was white.
Although Sandra’s great grandparents were all white, someone in her family tree must have been passing for white, probably several people on both sides. Their genes came together in her. Most white Afrikaners are only about 89% white by blood.
The trouble started when she went to school. The white children called her names, like “blackie” and “frizzhead”. They hit her. The school did nothing to stop them: it saw her as the cause of the trouble.
For four years parents and teachers of the school pushed to have her kicked out. Then on March 10th 1966 the police came and took her out of the school: the government said she was no longer white in the eyes of the law but coloured (mixed-race).
For two years her father fought to have her changed back to white, taking it all the way to the Supreme Court. He won. But it did little good: few white schools would take her. Nine said no. Only a Roman Catholic school far away said yes. By then she had fallen too far behind in her studies and never caught up.
Very few whites would befriend her. Nearly all her friends were black. She felt more comfortable with blacks than with whites.
At 14 she fell in love with a black man. Her father pulled a gun on him and told him never to come back and told her that if she married him, he will cut her off from the family.
At 15 she married him and ran off with him to Swaziland where she became his second wife. Her father made good on his threat.
When she returned to South Africa she was forced by law to live in a black township, a place with no power or running water. Even worse, her children were not allowed to live with her: they were “black” and she was still “white”. She tried to get herself changed back to coloured so they could stay with her, but her father blocked it! It took her ten years to get them back.
Her father went to his grave never seeing her again. Even her two (white) brothers, who are still alive, will not see her. They blame her for their parents’ unhappiness: ever since she ran away they were never happy again. But she did get to see her mother in 2000 just before she died.
Her story was made into a documentary in the 1970s - which was not allowed to be shown in South Africa! It has also been made into a book, “When She Was White” by Judith Stone, and a British film, “Skin” (2009), starring Sophie Okonedo and Sam Neill.
- Sarah Baartman – another South African woman who suffered for how she looked
- tragic mulatto
- white people
- David Myers: the black boy who thought he was white
- James McBride: The Color of Water
- There is absolutely nothing wrong with being black