‘Water’ Singer Tyla’s Ethnicity Divides the Diaspora as Fans Debate the Racial Undertones of Coloured versus Colored

Singer Tyla has only begun to cross over into mainstream pop music in America with her hit record “Water,” and already fans are divided as her ethnic classification as “coloured” has sparked an online debate.

The 21-year-old hails from Johannesburg, South Africa. According to Business Insider, she is of Indian, Zulu, Mauritian, and Irish descent. Fans from her homeland seemed to be outraged when an X user tweeted a photo of her with Travis Scott and said that it was the first time they had ever seen the rapper with a Black woman.

“Water” singer Tyla recently became the subject of a hot social media debate over racial and ethnic identification terms. (Photo: @tyla/Instagram)
“Water” singer Tyla recently became the subject of a hot social media debate over racial and ethnic identification terms. (Photo: @tyla/Instagram)

“Tyla is a COLOURED woman. Tyla does not identify as Black,” read a matter-of-fact response to the tweet. From there, a widespread debate between South Africans and Black Americans ensued.

As stated by Britannica, the term coloured was used to categorize people of mixed race in South Africa during apartheid. “Most South Africans who identified themselves as Coloured spoke Afrikaans and English, were Christians, lived in a European manner, and affiliated with whites. Many lived in Cape Town, its suburbs, and rural areas of Western Cape province,” states the encyclopedia publisher.

In America, post-Civil War, colored and negro were used by formerly enslaved individuals. By the 1960s, the terms were passé. In their place black became the term of choice most African-Americans identified by.

Other remarks made during the controversial discourse include an X user tweeting, “Coloured is the term Tyla goes by in her country which is a normality there ppl don’t have to change their cultural normality’s and references to please African AMERICANS.”

The debate has also prompted references to Latto’s original stage name, Mulatto, which she changed in 2021 due to backlash over its racially stigmatic roots.

“The latto comparisons are so weak to me bc tyla is not calling herself miss colored tyla. so theres actually no reason for anyone to call her such in everyday convo. she is also south african and coloured is a legitimate/accepted racial/cultural classifcation over there,” read one tweet.

Another user simply stated, “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.”

“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,” wrote someone else.

In past interviews, Tyla has shared that her culture and American artists such as Rihanna and Aaliyah have influenced her music. Despite the discourse between fans online, Tyla, herself, has not been outspoken about the hot topic debate regarding her ethnicity.