Aug 052018
 

RACE RELATION SIMILARITIES BETWEEN SOUTH AFRICA AND AMERICA

Guest Post by Lauren Morris

Lauren is the eldest daughter of our Executive Director, Brent Morris and spouse Caren. Lauren recently completed her first year at college and wrote an insightful history paper on racism, and interviewed her South African immigrant parents to get their perspectives.

The blog post that follows is a summary of her paper, with findings and parent perspectives:

The United States of America and the Republic of South Africa are the only two countries which employed legal segregation at some point in their histories. The way that segregation came about in each of these countries is vastly different, however, the effects that we are seeing today are interestingly similar. In America, legislation such as Jim Crow Laws were put in place in the late 19th century after slavery was abolished to keep African Americans separate from white people in the south. Jim Crow Laws forced Southern blacks to use separate public facilities and put them at a severe disadvantage by limiting their education and ability to vote. In South Africa, similar segregation laws were in place from around 1950 until the early 1990s under the apartheid system. Even now in the 21st century, both America and South Africa are still reaping the consequences of these laws through the racial tension between people groups within each of their countries.

Coming to America

South African culture and history have always been fascinating to me because I am the daughter of South African immigrants. For this {college} project, I had the opportunity to interview each of my parents about their journey to America, how South Africa is different from America, and what the racial situation was like in South Africa. My parents, Caren and Brent Morris, were married in August of 1991. Two weeks later, they made the 18-hour flight to Tulsa, Oklahoma so that my dad could “undertake a work transfer or 18-month secondment to receive international training.” Once their temporary work visas expired, they returned to South Africa for just less than four years before immigrating to America permanently in February of 1997. They made the tough decision to move to America for many different reasons. My dad, Brent Morris, said they decided to come to the U.S. “to secure a better future for our children, and ourselves, where they could be safe, get a good education, and find decent employment.” My mom, Caren Morris, added that they came “to get away from South Africa’s new government with its corruption and affirmative action.”

Once they arrived in America, it did not take them long to notice some distinct differences between South Africa and their new home. They were both amazed by seemingly simple things such as how large the vehicles in America were and the huge selection of grocery items and clothing.They also noticed how inexpensive everyday items were compared to South Africa. My mom was fascinated by the fact that homes did not have walls or fences around them for protection. Instead, they were open and had beautiful gardens with grass and flowers for all to see. My parents both enjoy living in America and became U.S. citizens in 2007. However, there are still some things about South Africa that they miss. Both of them said that they miss family and friends as well as the beaches and the tropical climate. My mom mentioned that she missed the “South African sense of humor” while my dad said he missed the South African food and sports and visiting game reserves and holiday destinations. Unfortunately, life in South Africa is not always picture perfect. The country suffers from much rising racial tension and problems following the end of apartheid.

Apartheid 

In 1948 during apartheid, “4.5 million whites, 11% of the population, govern the country of 40.9 million. Whereas the 2.5 million Coloreds (people of mixed ancestry) and the 900,000 Asians have some parliamentary representation, the 33 million blacks have no voice whatsoever inside the government.” This whole situation was destined for disaster for many reasons. First of all, the black people living in South Africa, referred to as “Africans,” were the indigenous people. The whites in South Africa came as Dutch (1652) and English (1820) settlers to what was at the time British territory. Eventually, this white minority formed their own government and began to enforce their laws on the black majority and gave them no say in the matter.

In 1991, the government under President F. W. de Klerk started to repeal the legislation that allowed apartheid to continue in South Africa.16 By the 1994 election, blacks were given the right to vote and Nelson Mandela was elected as President. Ever since that election, the African National Congress (ANC), which is mainly composed of Africans, has been in control of the South African government. This may seem like the way the government in South Africa should have been the whole time. However, this change of power is now causing reverse discrimination against whites. With quota systems that are currently in place, it is much harder for white citizens to find well-paying jobs, regardless of their education. Jobs are not allocated based on skill or education but based on the color of the person’s skin.

“The collapse of the apartheid system in the 1980s and 1990s sparked a (primarily white) exodus from South Africa” because of the lack of opportunities and the change of power. Between 1987 and 2001, about 310,000 people emigrated from South Africa and went to the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. Of those South African citizens who left the country, about 50,000 of them had professional qualifications. White South Africans began to realize that their “. . . whiteness might be a disadvantage in contemporary South Africa.” Not only did it become much harder for them to find jobs, but there was also a lot of racial tension and increased violence towards whites and they began to feel “increasingly threatened.” Thus, the end of apartheid and the transition of power resulted in the emigration of many educated, white South Africans, like my parents. This has come to be known as the “Brain Drain.”

Although legal segregation in America ended quite a few years before apartheid collapsed in South Africa and “nonwhites are the overwhelming majority in contemporary South Africa but a relatively small minority in the United States,” there are similarities between the issues each country has faced or is facing. African Americans have suffered through oppression ever since the end of the Civil War and the emancipation of slaves. Many slaves left the south and moved to the midwestern part of America after the Civil War to escape the Jim Crow Laws and intense racism. Unfortunately, “for some African Americans, even Kansas could not provide sufficient safeguard from Jim Crow’s touch, with many opting for emigration to Canada, Mexico,the Caribbean, Europe, and Africa as safer alternatives to life in the United States.” Even in America today it can be much harder for African Americans to get decent, well-paying jobs and have the same opportunities as white Americans. One of the reasons this is the case is because African Americans originally came to the country as slaves. Therefore, they did not have many opportunities to begin with. This could also be due to strict laws and stereotypes of African Americans which has caused so many African American males in particular to be incarcerated. In addition, some employers may be prejudiced against African Americans which can make it hard for them to land a decent job. Therefore, it can be much more difficult for African Americans to find good employment opportunities, in their own country, than their white American counterparts.

Conclusion

By comparing and contrasting cultures and racial issues in America and South Africa, one gets a deeper insight into the components of American culture that we would not otherwise think about unless we look at a culture that is different from our own. Through hearing of the struggles that many white South Africans face as the minority in the country, we can begin to get a feel for what it is like to be an immigrant or African American in a country where the majority of the people are white. In addition, we can see the numerous detrimental effects that racial segregation can have on countries regardless of their varying histories. It is also important to learn from the history of South Africa and America in order to better understand emigrants in America, as well as African Americans and ongoing challenges that each of these minority groups face.

Published with permission of the author

 

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