Under Her Skin: Sandra Laing

The film, Skin, has tugged on the heartstrings of many South Africans. I had the privilege of sitting down with Sandra Laing, on whom the film is based and she let me get under her skin.

For Sandra, looking to the future has been her only motivation all her life. As the movie details, Sandra was born black – to white parents. Rewind back to the sixties, this was unheard of and a dramatic scandal! It also fuelled Sandra’s torture. “I wasn’t happy”, she says.

She’s quiet and withdrawn – her experiences made her this way – or she is a strong enough woman to have let it go.

She lets me know that though in a world of black and white, she has had good moments. “I was happier with black children: my friends were black [while] their mother worked in our kitchen,”

Of course, her father wasn’t happy with this. He wanted to have an ideal white family. White mother + white father = white child, right? Not in her case – as a result of black ancestry that had been dormant for generations, she was black.

Knowing what havoc this caused, a pre-teen Sandra put all sorts of chemicals onto her hair and face – this image from the film had me so disturbed. Society injects the idea of ‘ideal’ into little minds so badly?!

For many Sandra’s, such rejection ‘confirms’ that they don’t belong. And the line between this and that is drawn.

I’m glad that we’ve started moving away from this attitude but, sadly – there will always be prejudice. I think the key is your determination to reshape your own future. Like Sandra: she has forgiven, she has moved on, and she continues to try and “get on with [her] life”.

We can certainly look at our own circumstance through these eyes.

Watch the Turing Point programme for Sandra’s story.


  1. I applaud your accurate and sympathetic words in sharing this story. I read that of her 3 siblings, her younger brother was born just as she was reflecting Black features and dark skin as well. Any news of how he coped or where he is now?


  2. I only noticed this comment now; I'm sorry I've taken so long to respond. Yes, her baby brother was also born with some black features – like tight curled hair and darker skin. I don't think he got the same treatment. I guess, he cut his hair and people looked the other way. Sandra says neither her brothers want anything to do with her – so he must be living life as a white man.


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