The United States and South Africa Share Great Challenges

This year, the world was united in our excitement for the World Cup, and in praise of South Africa being the first host for the games in the continent of Africa. Thirty-two countries would compete and more than a million tourists came to South Africa during the month; visitors from Zimbabwe, the US, Malawi, Mexico, and all over the globe joined the Zulu, Xhosa, East Indians, Afrikaners, British, mixed-race “Coloureds,” and other infinitely diverse people that make up the hosting “Rainbow Nation.” But when the wave of euphoria subsides, South Africans will still be faced with a fractured society, a legacy of segregation and inequality established under Apartheid and persisting to this day.

The 2010 tournament has attracted more American viewers than any previous World Cup, and is certain to set records for the amount of viewers around the globe. The tournament has also instigated a record amount of Internet traffic, and has been called the biggest event in the history of the Web. Controversy surrounds the South African government’s use of funds to aid the FIFA games, and the removal of local merchants from the stadium areas in favor of official FIFA-licensed products. But the fact that the World Cup was held in Africa has become a symbol itself: of the continent’s progress since the days of colonialism. What may become the most-watched sporting event in history was held not in Europe or North America, but in Africa.

In researching our forthcoming report, “Segregation in the 21st Century,” we at the Inequality and Common Good Program found that Black South Africans remain segregated at extremely high levels. The fall of apartheid stands as an enormous victory over racism, but the struggle for equality is ongoing.

A dissimilarity index, that measures the percentage of one group who would have to move to make a city integrated, was calculated from South African census data. The median dissimilarity index for the country is quite high: 81.2 percent of blacks would have to move to different parts of their cities for the areas to be considered racially integrated. Compare that to 81.8 in 1960 Los Angeles or 79.3 in 1960 New York. Under those conditions, and those levels of segregation, both U.S. cities erupted in rebellions, most often referred to as riots; the fact that 21st century post-Apartheid South Africa experiences this level of segregation speaks to the challenging situation the nation still finds itself in.

Analyzing segregation as a structural problem does not, and should not, imply that blacks benefit from more exposure to whites. Instead, it should be understood that under apartheid, as under Jim Crow law, blacks were kept physically separate from some of the greatest resources the country offered. In urban South Africa, this meant that blacks were unable to attend the best educational institutions or find employment in the most lucrative fields. Today this is still the case: education is horribly unequal and Blacks typically make only 10 percent of the income of their White counterparts in South Africa.

Segregation for blacks in South Africa and the United States has meant a denial of investment and opportunity due to institutional and individual racist practices. Desire to integrate into the formerly white-only areas reflects desire on behalf of Blacks to share in the wealth that has been concentrated in white communities; this is true in both the United States and South Africa. For whites in these countries the resulting privileged conditions that Whites enjoyed has made integration less desirable. According to a U.S. Census report, white Americans have the highest own-race preference when it comes to choosing a residential neighborhood. In South Africa, whites are the least likely to live in integrated areas and have been the group slowest to integrate. There is little desire for Whites in either country to integrate into formerly all-black areas that experience continued disenfranchisement.

Even in the “Rainbow Nation” of South Africa, successfully hosting Africa’s first World Cup, and in the United States of America headed by the first black president, Barack Obama, segregation and racial inequality remain contemporary issues. The governments of both lands must prioritize the issue of integration and focus on expanding the integration of resources, to benefit the most disenfranchised populations still suffering from racial inequality.

As the world’s attention turn away from the World Cup, let us in the United States take the challenges still facing South Africa to be a reminder of how much further the world and our own country has to go in bridging racial inequality.

Dedrick Muhammad and Christopher Towne are researchers for the Inequality and the Common Good project at the Institute for Policy Studies.