This paper examines the life writing of two well-known South African teachers,
Richard Dudley (1924–2009) and Richard van der Ross (b. 1921), both officially
classified as Coloured persons. Alan Wieder wrote a biography on Dudley, viz.
Teacher and Comrade (2008), and van der Ross published his autobiography
A Blow to the Hoop (2010). From these representations one gains insight into the
expectations and social experiences of an urban elite, discriminated against
because of the colour of their skin. The subjects in these texts inscribed or
inscribe themselves into their historical context, self-representing or presenting
their relationships to it, and in both instances this contested social identity
becomes a ‘dilemma’ to be resolved. The experiences of these leading and
representative figures are explored around a contested identity formation.
Their ideological differences are pronounced notably regarding social place and
‘race’, and their choices between pragmatism and political principle. The paper
discusses Dudley’s fundamental rejection of racial classification, and van der
Ross’s acceptance and affirmation of an intermediate identity. It is found that
both instances are acts of identity construction serving the greater goal of the
representation of a unique self-in-history. Both texts offer alternative versions of
history, and rationalize their subjects’ divergent choices around naming.