Top 5 ways US treatment of African-Americans resembles Apartheid South Africa

By Juan Cole | —

From 1949 though the early 1990s, South Africa was ruled by an Afrikaner Apartheid regime that made race the basis for law and politics, and which systematically excluded black Africans from their civil and national rights, empowering white Afrikaners alone. The social statistics produced by that regime, however, are not so different from those produced by ordinary every day legal and social practices in today’s United States. Impunity for white policemen who kill Blacks is one commonality between the two societies. I don’t have the clip to embed yet, but Jon Stewart made this point on his Daily Show on Comedy Central Thursday night. Here are some numbers to flesh it out.

1. Rates of imprisonment:

PrisonPolicy.org notes :


Incarceration rate per 100,000 population in South Africa under apartheid (1993): 368
Incarceration rate per 100,000 Black males in South Africa under apartheid (1993): 851
Incarceration rate per 100,000 African-American males in the United States under George W. Bush (2001): 4,848 ”

2. Residential segregation, from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette:

“… Douglas Massey, professor of sociology and public affairs, Princeton University. . . . said composite measurements of geographic segregation on a zero-to-100 scale show that South Africa in 1991 measured in the low 90s, while many American cities today rank in the high 70s to low 80s.”

3. Homicides concentrated in African-American neighborhoods; Whet Moser writes:

“Johannesburg has a murder rate of 30.5 per 100k and Cape Town has one of 46 per 100k, comparable to Chicago’s 1992 rate of 34 per 100k.

As in Chicago, its homicides are geographically concentrated. As in Chicago, South Africa’s cities are immersed in a country with a prevalent gun culture. And both places share a long history of segregation.”

4. Black-White intermarriage rate:

In 2010 in the US, about 13% of the 2 million marriages were inter-racial, but only 11% of those (33,000) were white-black marriages– i.e. 1.6% of total marriages.

Interracial marriages were forbidden under Apartheid but in post-Apartheid South Africa they still only account for about 1% of such relationships– a heritage of Apartheid (“the proportion of whites married to other whites fell from 99.6 percent in 1996 to 99.2 percent in 2001, according to census data” according to NBC news.

5. Police violence

In Apartheid South Africa, white police engaged in almost arbitrary violence against and killings of blacks

Draw your own conclusion about the comparison to today’s US.

14 Responses

  1. 2. Residential segregation is directly related to 3.Homicides concentrated in African-American neighborhoods mainly because of the prevalent gun culture. The U.S. isn’t South Africa. In 2014, the police killings of blacks has more to do with the militarization of police forces and the overall us against the citizens mentality than racism, IMO. What’s happening today in no way compares to the police violence against blacks during the 60s and early 70s. That was real racism. Police executions of Black Panthers and other blacks they regarded as extremists was commonplace.

    Back then, US treatment of African Americans resembled Apartheid South Africa, not today.

  2. While we must pay attention to the racism aspects involved in American society it is important that we also pay attention to the authoritarianism that is also prevalent. (The recent comments critical of blacks by other blacks – e.g.; Cosby, Barkley, Carson – are an example.) This combination of racism and authoritarianism is not unique to the United States. It appears to be becoming more of a problem in Europe.

    • This authoritarian and aggressive attitude among police is not unique towards people of color. During my career with the merchant marine white shipmates came to regard Los Angeles and San Diego area ports with an apprehension similar to that of motorists driving in the South who were aware of the prevalence of speed traps. In social situations I have had cops and former cops talk about abuse of white prisoners. Then there is the persecution of whistleblowers while the criminals they expose go free.

    • The CIA torture report currently agitating the senate intelligence (sic) committee and the CIA should provide additional evidence of authoritarian abuse and racism in government.

  3. It seems to me that the recent marches in protest of police violence against African-Americans are in large part a result of the fact that in a staggeringly high number of those incidents, the officer is not indicted. In the case of black-on-black crime, the assailant is usually promptly caught and prosecuted. It’s the lack of accountability, I think, that’s a prime motivation for the protests.

    But, there have been plenty of marches against black-on-black crime. The thing is that news coverage is mostly local, or mentioned in a two-paragraph column on page A-13. The cable news channels don’t see ratings gold in a march against black-on-black crime. They do, however, anytime there is a story that is guaranteed to generate controversy. The problem is not that the marches don’t happen — they do — it’s that we simply don’t hear about them unless we live in the communities where the marches take place.

    Perhaps there are also marches protesting against white-on-white crime that I don’t know about. I’ve never heard of any. According to FBI crime statistics, 83% of white homicide victims were murdered by white assailants — not very far off from the 90% black-on-black victims. I don’t know if we’re allowed to post links here so, if you wish, visit the FBI website (expanded homicide data) for a look-see. In any case, the reason for these high rates of same-race homicide are probably due in large part to proximity.(touched on by Dr. Cole in Point #2 of his post). If you’re black and live in a predominantly black neighborhood, then chances are you would be victimized by someone of the same race. Likewise if you’re white living in a predominantly white neighborhood. It’s where you live, where you spend most if not all of your time, where you interact with others, and where you could end up on the wrong side of a disagreement, or whatever other motive leads to homicide.

  4. Hate, divisiveness and bullying are ascending in our once great country.

    Where does it actually originate? And how is it replenished and carried?

    Who benefits?

  5. I have noticed since 9-11 that torture and illegal treatment of anyone pursued or in custody of American authority figures has become a common if not required dramatic devise in our movies and TV action dramas. If the show’s hero is a cop, soldier, spy, prosecutor, politician, etc. I can just wait and by the end of the show they have violated every law, rule, or procedure they work under to get the “bad” guy. Or at least threaten them with execution, beatings, and rape while incarcerated which they obviously deserve. Indeed, such behavior seems to be why most are cast as hero’s. They think and behave outside any legal or moral box. Those who work by the rules are usually portrayed as cowardly snitches or ineffective dullards at best. Good luck trying to figure out what is cause and what is effect. To me it seems deeply part of American culture and world view today.

  6. At the center of the Afrikaners’ national myth is a story victimhood. It’s all about massacres of martyrs followed by righteous, neccessary massacres of the hethen.

  7. While Manifest Destiny justified the taking of Indian and Mexican land in the American West, the Afrikanners’ Great Trek was God’s Will. The Chosen People were fair-skinned in both places.
    In the 19th Century, the Afrikanners were trying to get away from the anti-slavery British. The American parallel is the Southern secessionists.

  8. People need to learn how to talk to each other. Positive interaction is needed in our American society badly. Diversity amongst our police, and local officials must become the norm. Reworking our neighborhoods by encouraging racial mixtures would to me, be a goal worth the effort. Instead of spending money on military equipment for the police to use, spend this money on improving our communities infrastructure. Scrap these one sided trade agreements, and provide people with life time career jobs, and watch our nation grow healthy. I say this, because I don’t see this happening in our American cities.

  9. There is nothing new here about NYPD abuse of power:

    2004: “Republican National Convention Protesters To Receive $18 Million Settlement For New York City Arrests (PHOTOS)” – link to huffingtonpost.com

    2011: “14 Specific Allegations of NYPD Brutality During Occupy Wall Street” by Conor Friedersdorf – link to theatlantic.com

    Police brutality has been a fact of life across this nation for generations. Look back to the early 1900s when they served as strikebreakers in Detroit, the San Francisco waterfront (1934) and many other places. An abuse of power that obviously continues to this day and will be repeated tomorrow.

  10. We have identified two problems with police brutality: racism and authoritarianism. Among many other problems there is a third primary problem – the silence of our “good Americans.”

  11. You left out income. The ratio of the median white family’s income to the median black family’s income is a larger multiple in America today than it was in apartheid era South Africa.

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