Fans Debate Tyla's Identity as South African 'Coloured'

North American listeners have questioned why the singer-songwriter is associated with a term many consider racist.

Phillip Faraone / Stringer via Getty Images

Western fans of singer-songwriter Tyla have questions about the 21-year-old Johannesburg native after learning she doesn't identify as "Black."

The singer-songwriter has steadily been getting attention stateside thanks to her hit song "Water," which peaked at No. 18 on the Billboard Hot 100. She also has a string of popular tracks on TikTok as well as a nomination for Best African Music Performance at the 2024 Grammy Awards. But some fans have expressed shock to learn that she identifies as "Coloured" (with a u, specifically), a term that can be used in South African for those of mixed ethnicity.

The term "colored" has a different connotation in the United States—a racist categorization used prominently during the Jim Crow era to segregate people—which explains why some Western listeners have questioned its usage.

One such TikTok posted by user Simone Umba in September sparked debate when she shot down someone correcting her for saying Tyla is Black.

"This is a miseducation," Umba said. "Baby, colored is what they called Black people before they got rights in this country."


Replying to @Bridgette Bester

♬ original sound - Simone Umba

As South African journalist Misa Narrates wrote for Afropunk in September, "Coloured is a term that identifies a community who have cultivated a culture, language, and overall identity that wasn’t related to their segregation, but rather to identify the newly established community."

"Coloured" (again, with a u), was legally defined as a racial classification during South Africa's apartheid, which lasted from 1948 until the early '90s. It specifically refers to those who are neither white nor among Africa's aboriginal groups. They are regarded as a separate race group in the country alongside those who identify as Black, white, and Indian. It does not have the same connotation as it does in America, where it does not feature a "u." The community is incredibly diverse and doesn't fit into America's idea of racial binary.

Asked about her musical influences by Breakroom Africa in 2021, Tyla replied, "If you grew up in a Coloured home, you would know that I grew up listening to a lot of old school R&B [laughs] so that definitely has something to do with my sound."

She's also revealed her relatives are of Zulu, Indian, and Mauritian descent. Many South African fans have been quick to point out that her identifying as "Coloured" is a reminder that the world does not revolve around America, and South African artists do not need to "repackage" themselves for the world at large.

As South African comedian Dillan Oliphant said in a recent TikTok, "The world is bigger than you. ... You can't erase a whole identity to suit your comforts."

Check out some reactions to the debate below.

Twitter: @blxndedthot

Twitter: @leizenomis

Twitter: @iamMelsmith

Twitter: @keatingssixth

Twitter: @unfriendlyvixen

Twitter: @xm_muva

Twitter: @sucolorfavorito

Twitter: @1992sFinest

Twitter: @jasebyjason

Twitter: @MphoMoalamedi

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