When She Was White is the fascinating true story of the life of a woman born and raised in South Africa during apartheid. What makes the story compelling is that Sandra Liang’s race was reclassified more than once, resulting in a drastic change in the course of her existence.
Born to white parents and registered as ‘white’ at her birth, people complained of her physical characteristics during her rural youth, eventually leading to a reclassification as ‘coloured’ at the age of 10. This prompted the all-white school she attended to kick her out, and she was removed from the world of white privilege as well.
This was devastating for Sandra’s family and they fought bitterly to have her race changed back to white. It eventually was, after a change in the law that made descent the determination of race, rather than physical appearance and community acceptance, but by then it was too late.
The story follows Sandra’s life via her own recollections and of those who knew her, and unfolds in a tragic tale of the impact of the race classification system in apartheid South Africa. Some of the stories are muddled and conflicting due to the different sources, but the author still manages to weave an interesting albeit somewhat incomplete tale.
When She Was White is a fascinating read for anyone interested in the history of South Africa and the impact that apartheid had on the average family.