Term Paper: Comparison Between South Africa and the United States

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African Studies

Racial Policy:

The United States and South Africa

There are many points of comparison between the United States of America and the Republic of South Africa. Both countries were settled by European colonists who established control over a native population. Both nations today contain a large Black population. In the case of the United States, it was the European colonists who imported large numbers of slaves from Africa. In the instance of South Africa, it was the Europeans who came to dominate a population that consisted overwhelmingly of native Black Africans. The original inhabitants of the United States - the Native Americans - were either exterminated or marginalized, while White Europeans and their Black slaves came to constitute almost the entire population of the new country. The South African process was different, but the original populations were similarly marginalized. The two countries share a long history of racial division and exploitation. Following the end of slavery, in the Nineteenth Century, Black Americans were subjected to the indignities of Jim Crow, a system of "separate but equal" in which Blacks were relegated to the status of second class citizens. Twentieth Century South Africa went even further with this concept, creating the detested Apartheid - a system of virtually total racial separation in which Whites ensured their total dominance over all other races. South Africa's former slaves and native Black peoples, together with Asian immigrants and those of mixed race, were forced to suffer the assaults of system that was both similar to, and yet more extreme than that which prevailed in the United States. In each country, movements for equal rights eventually ended formal racial segregation and discrimination, but the legacy of such policies remains.

White Europeans began to settle in significant numbers in what became the United States and South Africa in the Seventeenth Century. The earliest European colonists of South Africa were Dutch though interestingly, a Dutch colony was founded in North America as well, though that colony - New Amsterdam, later New York - was eventually subsumed under English rule. In contrast, South Africa's Dutch colonies would fall under full English control by the early Twentieth Century. Indeed, it was a Dutch warship that, in 1619, landed the first cargo of Black African slaves at Jamestown in return for food supplies.

Black slaves from Africa soon became a common sight in Virginia, and throughout the colonies along the Eastern Seaboard. More common in the South than in the North, they became essential in the region's expanding plantation economy. Slave labor worked plantations of tobacco and rice and, after the widespread adoption of Eli Whitney's cotton gin in the Early Nineteenth Century, the cotton plantations that became the mainstay of the Southern economy. By the 1660s Colonial law was already beginning to distinguish between indentured servitude and slavery, with Black Africans, and Black Africans alone, being consigned to perpetual servitude, the outright property of their masters.

Raced-based slavery would form the basis of social distinctions over the next three centuries, laying the groundwork for further discriminatory and restrictive legislation aimed at Blacks. A similarly race-divided society took shape in South Africa under Dutch auspices. The Dutch established their first colony at the Cape of Good Hope in 1652, and five years later began importing slaves from along the Indian Ocean as a means of complementing the labor pool of yeoman farmers.

As the early Dutch settlers pushed further into the interior of the continent, they came into direct contact with peoples such as the Khoikhoi, the Xhosa, and others. By the Eighteenth Century contact and intermarriage with these groups, and between slaves or emancipated slaves and these groups - the so-called Bastaards - were producing mixed race populations that were already beginning to occupy a place in between Whites and Blacks. Many of these groups, in fact, settled at the literal frontiers of Dutch settlement, establishing chiefdoms the de facto independence of which was recognized by the Dutch administration at the Cape.

Colonial South Africa, like Colonial America, was beginning to cleave along racial lines, with Whites in a clearly dominant position, politically, socially, and economically.

Of course, independence came much earlier to the American colonies than to their Dutch counterparts in Southern Africa. The new United States, a land that prided itself on being the world's first modern democracy, officially recognized slavery in its constitution. Slaves enjoyed virtually no legal status as human beings, counting as three-fifths of a person for purposes of electoral apportionment. On the whole, it was the individual states that continued to regulate the slaves' legal status. By the Early Nineteenth Century, slavery had ceased to exist except in the South and in a few isolated enclaves in the North (where it was dying out). The international slave trade had also been ended by 1808 by constitutional provision. Nevertheless, slavery was an entrenched institution throughout the South. Considered an essential part of the economy, the status of slaves was also defended on a variety of grounds. Many cited religious arguments as a means of justifying Blacks' inferior status. Slavery was bound up with what was a fundamentally conservative view of society, one that derived its inspiration from the Bible. The scientific extra-Biblical ideas that were increasingly used to challenge the institution were themselves viciously attacked as assaults upon a God-given way of life, and on the eternal truths that informed Southern, and indeed, American society. A Presbyterian clergyman from South Carolina, James Henley Thornwell,

Denounced a grave threat to slavery. The target of his wrath was not only the fanatical ravings of abolitionists but also an internal danger. He assaulted the "science, falsely so-called" that defended slavery by making "the slave a different kind of being from his master." Thornwell denounced those "who defend slavery upon the plea that the African is not of the same stock with ourselves" for threatening the legitimacy of slavery "by bringing it into conflict with the dearest doctrines of the Gospel."

In other words, the doctrine of "scientific racism" that was increasingly advanced in favor of keeping the Black man in submission was being attacked for being at variance with Biblical precepts of human equality! In the aftermath of the Civil War, such eugenic doctrines became more common as defenders of the old order sought ways to keep African-Americans in what many saw as their rightful place at the very bottom rung of society. The religious twist enabled slavery, and afterward, Black inferiority, to be placed within the context of a Divine plan for human society. No change would be necessary if God had declared that things must be as they are. While the Civil War might have abolished slavery in America, it had not wiped away the inferior status occupied by African-Americans, nor had it altered their economic circumstances, education levels, and cultural identities.

An ocean way in South Africa, slavery would also be abolished during the early years of British control. Slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire but this did little to ameliorate the position of "coloreds" in the African colonies. The South African society that advanced toward the Twentieth Century and national independence was one that was built on racism and sharp social, economic, and political divisions that were founded on race. The struggle against increased British control had made the Afrikaners, those of Dutch ancestry, more jingoistic and conservative than ever. The great Trek into the interior, the foundation of the new territories, and ultimately their position in the independent South Africa was colored by their impressions of their own history, a history which they saw as a struggle against the "uncivilized" native peoples of Africa and the British as well. Staunch Calvinists, the Boers, like many of their counterparts in the Southern United States, held to staunchly fundamentalist religious beliefs through which they sought to give meaning and definition to their society and its goals.

Their identity premised on these life-and-death struggles, they would be the major force behind the legal institutionalized racism of apartheid. As in the American South, conservatism came to be identified with the preservation of a way of life that was seen as being under continual assault by external forces; a battle between an idealized, unchanging past and a threatening, chaotic present - of white vs. black.

The Boer War, like the American Civil War, was followed by a period of Reconstruction. In both countries, the "reconstruction" inculcated a fierce resentment among the local population. In the American South, that resentment was directed against the carpetbaggers, and toward a federal government that appeared intent on overturning Southern traditions and making the South subordinate to the North. In South Africa, a surface unity was troubled by a seething undercurrent of Afrikaner indignation - "the fruit of years of second-class citizenship for the Afrikaner in his own country."

Jim Crow was the almost inevitable Southern response to Northern "bullying" - a campaign to take by the South through the enactment of state and local laws designed to preserve… [END OF PREVIEW]

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