South African singer Tyla has become one of the most prominent artists in 2023 with her hit single “Water.” However, the Johannesburg native recently became the center of a social media debate as Black Americans and South Africans argued the differences between “colored” and coloured” in their respective homelands.
What is Tyla's ethnicity?
The back-and-forth between Black Americans and South Africans began over the weekend when fans in the States were surprised that Tyla, born Tyla Laura Seethal, does not identify as a Black woman. Instead, according to Business Insider, the 21-year-old is considered “coloured,” a term used in South Africa to classify those of mixed race. Tyla is of Indian, Zulu, Mauritian and Irish descent.
According to Uproxx, race is viewed differently in South Africa than in the States. In America, race and Blackness go hand-in-hand since they are primarily determined based on the “one-drop rule,” having one Black ancestor and possessing facial traits that would otherwise label them as Black. Whereas in South Africa, race is recognized through apartheid with more of a European viewpoint.
Tyla’s South African fans defended her decision to be viewed as “coloured” on X, formerly known as Twitter, after a fan in the States tweeted a photo of the singer alongside rapper Travis Scott, insinuating that he had never been seen with a Black woman, per the Atlanta Black Star.
“Tyla is a COLOURED woman. Tyla does not identify as Black,” @EscaflowneClown wrote in response to the original tweet.
Tyla is a COLOURED woman. Tyla does not identify as Black. https://t.co/3slG5yXLvk
— Jason (U mad)🍉 (@EscaflowneClown) November 19, 2023
What does coloured mean? Tyla identifies as coloured.
The user’s remark sparked an ongoing debate between Black Americans and South Africans as “colored” and “coloured” hold different meanings in both countries. In South Africa, “coloured” isn’t viewed as a racial slur but a term to label mixed-race citizens. However, in America, “colored” was used to group all Black Americans who were enslaved people.
South African comedian Dillan Oliphant said in a video, “The world is bigger than you. Black Americans are not the main characters everywhere, the world is not a Tyler Perry movie. This is Tyla’s movie, and in Tyla’s movie she identifies as a coloured… You can’t erase a whole identity to suit your comforts. Don’t be like the people who took you to America.”
Here are additional reactions from fans of both sides who shared their thoughts on the racial differences in America and South Africa.
Over here, in the US, we call people like Tyla “mixed” or “biracial”. If yall wanna call her “coloured” elsewhere, that’s fine. But don’t insult us because we’ve evolved from that term.
— mini (@_KayRie) November 20, 2023
No one in the USA white or Black American media is going to call her "coloured" lol. She will be called South African here, and you all know that. We know she isn't Black. But we don't use "coloured, colored" here. Tyla is South African, thee end.
— FrenchieRae (@FrenchieRae) November 20, 2023
I would like to point out, this aint even Tyla’s fault. Mama somewhere pouring water on herself. She hasnt even uttered a word. A mess.
— WE SUING (@kay_suigeneris) November 20, 2023
The worst thing about Tyla blowing up outside of South Africa is Black Americans doing identity Olympics and completely disregarding Tyla's cultural identity because of their superiority complex regarding what 'Coloured' means to them.
— sim simma (@leizenomis) November 20, 2023
Coloured, but not in the same context as it was used in America. It’s a racial category used in South Africa for people who are basically mixed with other races.
— 80s Made Me 90s Raised Me (@gemtaurusleo) November 20, 2023
Tyla race discourse needs to be wrapped up immediately but the very easy resolution is surely to just say “South African Coloured”
— Jason Okundaye (@jasebyjason) November 20, 2023
The only thing about this Tyla situation I'm bout to say is. If some old yt man comes up and thinks colored is back on the table because his daughter was listening to that coloured water girl I'mma blame yall pic.twitter.com/SQh97FR22s
— Whiskey_Woods (@Whiskey_Woods) November 20, 2023
Tyla is colored in SA and biracial in the US or European countries. Simple. Y’all need to let it go omg. Y’all are so painfully unemployed pic.twitter.com/sgWBaC5nft
— lewis (@blxndedthot) November 20, 2023
I love the fact Tyla is crossing over to do greater things worldwide but the fact that shea butter twitter now has a hold of her. Oh I gotta pray for her pic.twitter.com/mRbZr8WqRX
— lewis (@blxndedthot) November 20, 2023
Do Americans not realise how wild it is to say that Tyla's success is hinged on her conforming to their ideals of race just to make them comfortable? Is that not inherently problematic and colonial in nature?
— DILUC MAIN (@isuwarrior) November 20, 2023