Sandra Laing: Born Black with White Parents

Sandra and her parents
Sandra and her parents

The story has been circulating from quite some time.  South African Sandra Laing was born and classified as "coloured" in the 1950s, but both parents were "white".  And certainly that's genetically possible:  white parents bringing home a bouncing baby girl whose complextion is a bit more golden than theirs and whose hair shows a bit more… "texture".  In fact, the South African theory for Laing's case was deemed " a throwback".  I guess when one looks white, but has black ancestry all up and through the family tree, a "coloured" baby can emerge to throw back folks to a black reality.  But when a white couple brings home a baby whose skin is dramatically darker and whose hair is much coarser and what they call "tightly curled", well, one would have some questions.  That's the case for Sandra Laing whose story has been made into a film called Skin starring Sophie Okonedo [Secret Life of Bees, Hotel Rwanda].

Now as my mom used to say:  "With black people there's no telling how the child will look.  So be prepared", but Laing's story seems… odd.  I'm no geneticist or biologist, but it looks like Sandra is a product of a black South African and maybe a white Afrikaneer.  I'm saying, it looks like somebody in her family was lying.  The tests they used to prove her father's paternity could have been faulty.  And what about proving her mother's maternity?  Is it possible she was adopted?  Is it possible Sandra's mother was "getting love" from an undeniably-black man on the side?  I'm not trying to throw salt on Laing's game, I'm just not convinced the complete truth has been unearthed.  I need to see more cases like this to be convinced these particular extremes are probable.  Again, I know anything could be true, but Laing's story is extreme.  If you're in the Los Angeles area, Skin screens next month at the Pan African Film Festival before getting wider release.

Keith Josef Adkins is an award-winning playwright, screenwriter and social commentator.

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