Is It Apartheid Yet?

1 Aug

Lately friends of mine have been talking about the U.S. heading toward apartheid in response to white fears generated by census reports predicting demographic changes that are likely to erode white power. They point to various attempts to disenfranchise voters of color and marginalize us socially and economically as evidence.

My general reaction has been, “your kidding, right?” I mean, we beat legal apartheid in the courts and on the streets in the 1960s.

But folks say I’m taking the term too literally. They tell me I need consider de facto apartheid – a condition in which whites, even as a minority (though credible sources contradict census predictions and argue that a white minority is not in our near future), are able to rule by creating separate and unequal conditions for people based on race without resorting to explicit racial codes.

Okay, so maybe we’re just trapped in an argument over semantics. After all, we already have a system of minority rule, right?

For instance, the majority of us wanted the Affordable Care Act to include a public option. Regardless, we lost on that issue because a (white) minority interest opposed to the public option controls Congress.

And then there’s the wildly disproportionate targeting of Black men in the war on drugs, even when whites use drugs at the same rate as Blacks and are, by far, a bigger driver of the illegal drug trade. That seems like a pretty clear demonstration of how bald faced racism can drive public policy and institutional practices in spite of constitutional guarantees of equal protection. All you have to do is avoid certain trigger words and, at least to our courts, it’s not racism.

Advocates of the de facto apartheid scenario also point to efforts to economically marginalize people of color via attacks on government assistance and educational opportunity programs. It’s been pretty clearly demonstrated that leaders of both parties are far less responsive to poor people than to folks with money, so economic marginalization accrues to the political disadvantage of communities of color, right?

Attacks on government are also attacks on government employees, a disproportionate percentage of whom are people of color, reflecting the historical reality that government was (and is) one of very few avenues to good employment for many minorities. Government also plays a regulatory role, including by policing discrimination in hiring and promotions.

Then the prophets of doom ask that we consider conservative efforts to disenfranchise communities of color, especially Latinos and African Americans. By aiming the war on drugs at Black communities and making drug possession a felony that can cost you your voting rights, many states have gotten around the 15th Amendment and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, both of which prohibit denying ballot access based on race.

And Republican Voter I.D. Laws take things a step further. They know full well that this will have a disproportionate negative impact on communities of color. In fact, that’s the whole point of these laws. In Pennsylvania, House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R), has gone so far as to describe Voter ID as a way to “allow Governor Romney to win the state…”

Good point. And don’t get it twisted, the Republican Party is the party of white power.

A 2009 Gallup poll found that 89% of Republicans were white. 2% were Black, 5% Latino, and 4% were “other race.” Of white Republicans, 60% identify as conservative. And, according to a more recent Pew Research Center report, the trend is toward Republicans growing more popular among whites since the election of Barack Obama (while either losing support or holding steady among voters of color).

Put it all together and those fearful of de facto apartheid might be onto something.

But, in spite of all of these arguments (and folks offer many more), I’m not joining the choir on this one yet. To me, it matters not whether the white elite (what we used to call the white power structure back in the day) are plotting (or bumbling into) a form of de facto apartheid because, well, it doesn’t seem to me to increase the urgency of resistance nor change the way we ought to go about it.

But where we agree is on the matter of Latinos, Native Americans, African Americans, and economically disadvantaged Asian Americans being systematically marginalized, socially, economically, and politically. And that is cause for alarm, especially because most of our leaders aren’t talking about it, opting instead to go along with the post-racial (or colorblind racism) consensus that the best way of addressing racism is to avoid talking about it.

14 Responses to “Is It Apartheid Yet?”

  1. Kia August 1, 2012 at 8:32 pm #

    Hi Scot,

    Good post. Although I do agree with your stance regarding the resurgence of Apartheid in the US, but we can’t deny there is a subtle segregation happening in the form of gentrification.

  2. ChazIng August 1, 2012 at 9:05 pm #

    Why aren’t all Asian Americans “systematically marginalized, socially, economically, and politically”?

    • Race Files August 1, 2012 at 10:24 pm #

      Good question. I guess I meant to point out that the model minority myth has the affect of marginalizing, even making invisible, economically disadvantaged Asian immigrant groups such as the Vietnamese and the Hmong who suffer rates of poverty comparable to that of African Americans.

      • ChazIng August 1, 2012 at 11:54 pm #

        Agreed but it could be argued that it also diminishes the social problems of those who it supposedly elevates. I get your point though, some Asian American groups are quite badly off.

  3. blacknectar August 1, 2012 at 9:58 pm #

    Hi, have you heard of / seen Eduardo Bonilla Silva’s 2004 article on a (possibly) emerging tri-racial system? He says this system will develop in response to the change in U.S.demographics. It’s pretty compelling–I mean, he makes some overreaching statements, but if the powers that be are invested in maintaining inequity (and I believe that they are) to further their own interests, it’s possible.
    The article is here:

    • Race Files August 3, 2012 at 9:10 pm #

      No, but I’m glad to have found it. Thanks for sending it to me and for your blog. Love your blog.

      • blacknectar August 3, 2012 at 9:30 pm #

        Thanks so much! Would also like to hear your thoughts on the article after you read it.

  4. dathistoryguy August 2, 2012 at 12:59 pm #

    Reblogged this on Dathistoryguy and commented:
    Excellent insight here had to reblog it!

    • Race Files August 2, 2012 at 5:08 pm #

      Thanks! Can’t wait to see what you’re writing!

      • dathistoryguy August 7, 2012 at 12:48 am #

        Sorry for the delayed response. Work in Progress but thanks for the reply!

  5. Bernie Schlotfeldt August 3, 2012 at 6:57 pm #

    I definitely agree that the trends you mentioned structurally amount to something similar to apartheid—a deepening of structural racism that could result in a plurality of white people retaining power as the country’s demographics shift. That’s not good for anyone, including white people—the cultural, financial and spiritual costs of such policies is just to high for us. Working class and poor people get economically punished in this situation, not just people of color.

    As I’ve mentioned elsewhere (, that’s why now is the time to dissolve political wedges and consolidate support by the substantial minority of white people who do see our interests aligned with people of color and other marginalized people/identities. We can get out ahead of this thing, but it will take some investment.

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