Air Date: June 24, 1997 Program 9725


Anthony Marx, Professor of Political Science, Columbia University
Ellis Cose, Contributing Editor, Newsweek

(This text has been professionally transcribed, However, for timely
distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.)

ANTHONY MARX: Looking comparatively and historically also reveals to us that issues of race aren't tangential issues even say in the United States to the development of how the country has thought of itself—how it is conceived of itself as a nation.

KEITH PORTER: This week on Common Ground—Race Relations in the United States, Brazil and South Africa.

ELLIS COSE: You have what amounts to an interesting kind of convergence of the three countries, where by now they all in the position of saying "racism is bad." They are all in the position, or at least significant people are in the position of saying "we don't practice that. And the enemy, in a large measure in all countries, in all those three countries now—have to do with more subtle ramifications of racism and also the legacy of racism.

PORTER: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It is produced by the Stanley Foundation. I'm Keith Porter. Racism exists around the world, but different societies have chosen different paths for dealing with and in some cases manipulating the problem. Today we'll look at the situation in three countries—Brazil, the United States and South Africa. Joining us first is Professor Anthony Marx from Columbia University. Doctor Marx has done extensive research and writing in this field and first tells us how these three countries can be placed on a continuum in terms of their race relations.

MARX: Well it's a little bit artificial but one way to do continuum of the three countries is to look at legal encodements of racial domination. And by that measure, South Africa is clearly at one extreme end of the continuum as the most pervasive form of institutionalized racism of the century—with—not just apartheid but segregation before apartheid before 1948. Brazil is on the other—towards the other end of the continuum as not having legally encoded racial domination or segregation. It doesn't mean it hasn't had and doesn't still have—in fact it does still have significant discrimination and inequality—but not legally codified as such. And the United States is somewhere in-between but in my view closer to South Africa at least until the 1960's with Jim Crow as very much a legally encoded form of racial domination. Particularly in the South but important ways in the North as well.

PORTER: And now we're joined by Ellis Cose, Contributing Editor of Newsweek magazine also author of the book—Color Blind—Ellis do you agree with this analysis?

COSE: Sure but I think there is also another way of looking at the issue—with any number of ways looking at the issue—But one way you can think about it is that—just talking about South Africa and the United States for a moment—I mean both of these countries—fairly recently—South Africa much more recently than the United States—had systems in which racism was not only sanction—but compelled. And now neither one does—and the official policy of those two states is in fact to abolish state sanctioned racism and to try in some sense to wipe out the whole practice of racism—so I think that what has happened is because of that—in some interesting way you have—I mean you can't push this too far—but you have what amounts to an interesting to a kind of convergence of the three countries—whereby now they are all in the position of basically saying racism is bad. They are all in the position or at least significant people are in the position of saying "we don't practice that." And the enemy—in a large measure—in all countries—in all those three countries now have to do with more subtle ramifications and of racism and also the legacy of racism. By the legacy I mean these horrendous and continuing inequalities among other things. In South Africa for instance, just look at who hold the land, how it's distributed. Just look at who has the wealth and how that's distributed—it's just huge disparities in wealth—much larger than in the United States. So I think that the three countries—and one of the reasons why it's interesting to look at them together—is because they are very different countries—with very different political systems and very different political histories—but there is some interesting convergence in terms of how they are beginning to wrestle with race now.

MARX: I agree with Ellis—I think though—as Ellis will also agree with, I'm sure—the convergence shouldn't be mistaken for purely a positive thing. Bringing Brazil into the comparison demonstrates that—here's a country that never had legally codified racism and yet the outcome of inequality and discrimination are comparable to those that are the legacies of such encodements and social practice in the United States and South Africa. Suggesting that you can have the end of Jim Crow and apartheid and still have significant racism practiced and felt and lived and that in fact the end of the legal encodements may make it—in some sense—more difficult to challenge those inequalities and outcomes because you don't have the law as a target for your protests, for your action, for your concerns. Changing the social practice turns out to be a much more difficult process than the already very difficult process of changing apartheid or Jim Crow.

COSE: Oh yeah—just the opposite—as a good thing—I think I see the Brazilian experience—and to a large extent—the Latin American experience at large—as sort of a cautionary tale when it comes to—what in many instances amounts to a greater and lesser sophisticated way of denying that race is an issue when it clearly is a very large issue—and what we are finding here in the United States is that there's more and more of the kind of—what I call—magical thinking—where people act in ways that are clearly discriminatory—you have institutions that do things that clearly discriminate among people—you have outcomes that are clearly unequal—and yet people can say "there's no bias—there's no racism here." And that's been the story for a long time of Brazil certainly—but as I said of sort of Latin America in general.

PORTER: Ellis as you look at these three countries—South Africa, Brazil and the United States—in your mind what is the most striking difference in the way they understand the concept of race?

ELLIS: The obvious and striking difference has to do with the "one drop rule" in the United States. The "one drop rule" being that if you have any degree of African heritage you have so-called—one drop of African blood in you—and then you are black—that has to some extent—used to have to some extent—the force of law—and it no longer really does—but it certainly largely accepted as custom—though even that is beginning to change—where as in a country in Brazil—that was never really accepted—that one drop of so-called black blood made you black—it didn't necessarily make you white—but it didn't necessarily make you black either. You could be all kinds of other things in-between. And in terms of South Africa—event there—the classification system was a bit more flexible that it was here—I mean there were people who actually got themselves reclassified—every year a certain of number of people got themselves reclassified because they wanted to move up from being black to being colored or from being colored to being white—so as in the U.S. people got themselves reclassified by "passing"—by sort of denying that they ever had any African heritage. I mean it's a funny reference—because in some sense it's not a serious one—but I think of Flash Dance which came out—I don't know—a decade ago or so—as an interesting marker for the United States—because you had this woman—who in the U.S. most people would not consider bi-racial—but she sort of landed in this Pennsylvania town—there was no sign of a parent—no sign of family in her apartment—she sort of into this—she gets involved in this affair with this honkey Italian guy—and there's never any reference that you can pin down in this movie—and never any indication as to what her race is—and even when the subject of race comes up with some encounter with fellow dancers—there's another black dancer—who's visibly black—who says something about "I'm glad I'm not a honkey" or something similar to that—but the main character—the character that Jennifer Beals plays is never identified racially. I found that fascinating because—part of what it said to me is that there is a growing acceptance now in the United States of a sort of category of people who aren't necessarily black but aren't necessarily white. And I think that certainly in that movie—whatever we consider her outside the movie—but I think certainly in the context of that movie—she fell into that category of people—and I think by the same token—you know—we're seeing more and more groups migrate to the United States who have a different kind of tradition. In Puerto Rico, you have a lot of people who are Preato?? Autogrango?? or something that's not exactly black and not exactly white—and by the same token you have the same groups of people from elsewhere—from Mexico and elsewhere who are coming in with these interesting sort of racial designations that I think are increasingly challenging the way that the U.S. has classified people.

MARX: I agree with Ellis, I think the implication that we need to be clear about is that race is a fluid concept that these social categories change over time and people challenge them. I think that the "one drop of blood rule" in the United States that made you black if you had one drop of black blood—which the Supreme Court itself upheld—had just the reverse if you will—where the Brazilian whites were so eager to have more whites amongst them because they were so concerned about the black population that was the legacy of the largest slave holding society in world history—that they had the reverse—if you had one drop of white blood then you were at least some intermediate category moving towards the white elite. South Africa is an interesting example on this front because given that the white minority was so much a minority, you would think purely on strategic grounds that they would be similarly in alliances with intermediate populations or with defining people as much as possible to align with whites...

COSE: ...well, they certainly did attempt alliances with the colored populations... and

ELLIS: ...they did although that dwindled over time

COSE: Um hum

ELLIS: ...—right—I mean—eventually they decided they were powerful enough even as a minority that they could impose increasingly apartheid upon the colored population—violating the sort of assumptions of what you would think as "strategic rationale"—as if it was strategic—it wasn't—it was ideological—it excluded—increasingly excluded even the intermediate population from he benefits of economic growth for instance.

COSE: Well I think several things happened there. I think what had also happened—was that there was a recognition that an alliance with the coloreds simply was not going to result in a stable country, nor was it going to remove the censure that they were being subjected to by the rest of the world—but it clearly had it's impact—if mean if you look at the election results in Cape Town with the first general elections which is basically the largest concentration of colored there—it went for the National Party—because they were successful in getting that identification among large numbers of the coloreds—much more so with the so-called "'white party" than with he black party. And I think there continues to be—in South Africa the whole issue—around the whole issue of Affirmative Action—and others—the whole question of where the coloreds are going to fit in and exactly what alliances they're going to be able to form and what they're going to call themselves even.

PORTER: Tony Marx we mentioned the striking differences in these three countries when it comes to race relations—are there striking similarities—is there something that says—"boy in all three of these countries when it comes to race relations, this rule apply no matter what the situation. Are there those kinds of similarities?

MARX: Well the most obvious similarity is that if you're black and in one of those three countries the chances are you're going to have significantly lower income on average than whites—even more significantly lower assets or wealth than whites—educational—both opportunities and attainments—various other social measures of inequality are run constant through—I mean they vary in the numbers—but the differential is present in all three of these countries.

COSE: Well, I think the other similarly is that—and I think it's almost one that sort of began with—They're all wrestling with how to deal with an equality that is either being newly acknowledged or newly challenged.

PORTER: We're talking in this edition of Common Ground about race relations in South Africa, Brazil and the United States. Our guests are: Professor Anthony Marx of Columbia University and Ellis Cose, a Contributing Editor at Newsweek magazine. Both men are part of a comparative human relations initiative core group organized by the Southern Education Foundation. Printed transcripts and audio cassettes are available. Listen at the end of the broadcast for details. Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that conducts a wide range of programs meant to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs.

MARX: Some people have argued that South Africa may emerge as a racial democracy—which is the term that comes out of Brazil—and certainly the ANC's policy is non-racialism which is not a policy that most Americans agree with.

PORTER: Again this is Professor Anthony Marx.

MARX: The ANC—Nelson Mandela's ruling party in South Africa—believes that race should cease to be—over time—cease to be an operative social category—whereas most in the United States and even critics of Mandela's government to his left—argue that race still needs to be used as a basis for redress for past grievances—I think race is not going to disappear in South Africa as I think the ANC and Mr. Mandela recognize because the inequalities on the ground remain and because the current governments capacity for redressing those inequalities—providing housing, raising the level of black education, raising issues of health for the black population, etc., to say nothing of economic change in the vast inequalities in the country—none of those things are going to change very quickly in South Africa—one of the...

COSE: ...I think also there's a long term—short term issue here...

PORTER: This again is Ellis Cose.

COSE: I mean clearly, not even anyone in the ANC is arguing that they should pursue blind non-racialism at present. I mean look at the cabinet—it's very racially, ethnically balanced—the whole concern about what they're going to do about the civil service—very much driven by the co-concerns of some kind of racial redress, racial balance. Now the reorganization of various entities, including the South African Broadcast Corporation and the insurance that there were better ethnic representation of all groups there—I mean the lists go on—but clearly there is no short term commitment to what's being called "color-blindness" in the U.S. context. I mean as a goal—there is this sort of goal somewhere out there in the distant future—we are going to be a non-racial state they're saying—but I'm not so sure that anyone in the ANC really can talk intelligently about when they expect that to be.

MARX: No, that sounds right—I think the ANC is more committed in principle to that goal than probably anyone in the United States—there is partly a demographic difference here which is that the black majority in South Africa have some sort of confidence that at some point, ignoring race will leave them with considerable power, simply by virtue of being the majority in a democracy—African Americans don't have that privilege.

COSE: And it's a fascinating psychology—I mean I was talking to a guy from the Trade Department in South Africa once and he was saying in effect with regard to Affirmative Action—and he was saying "well, I don't care about Affirmative Action, you know, maybe some day Whites will need Affirmative Action—but this is our country" and whether or not you agree with whether or not Affirmative Action is need there...

MARX: Whites had Affirmative Action—it was called Apartheid...

COSE: Oh, absolutely—absolutely—but that sense among many black South Africans—probably most at this point—of "this is our country—we ultimately are going to be in control here—we are the masters of our destiny to some extent" is fundamentally different that what is felt among blacks in the United States—and what that is going to mean in terms of the future of that country is rather difficult to say—but it is a fundamental difference—psychological difference.

PORTER: As we look at South Africa, I'm wondering if there is some other place in the world where we could compare it to—to sort of get some historical insight—is there another example anywhere in the world of where a powerful minority has given up political power yet maintained economic power—and—can you think of a place like that where we might be able to compare it to South Africa and gain some insight?

MARX: I'm not sure it's an exact parallel but certainly lots of post-colonial situations—the former colonial rulers who had lost power—retained significant power and—one of the issues in political science—the discipline I work in—is the question of how much those sorts of deals are necessary to have transition happen. I mean one of the ways of understanding the South African transition is that Whites were willing to let political power change hands because they had significant explicit and implicit assurances that economic power was not going to change hands so dramatically and that of course creates real problems for the current government to deliver on the expectations on redress.

COSE: And also creates problems for the future which have to be dealt with—because—I mean we were talking earlier about the trade-offs that are implicit and having an amnesty program set up where you in effect forgive people who've created awful crimes because they've confessed to their crimes—and you have another sort of trade-off set up—when in the interest of stability—you guarantee Whites their property, their positions and an important role in the country. At the same time when you have a huge population of people clamoring for roles and you have unemployment close to 50% among Blacks—it's ??? question which is in a sense a ticking time bomb for how the country is going to resolve that, unnecessary trade-off probably, if you're going to have a stable transition, but...

MARX: The awful implication of this is that what you need for transition—or what people thought they needed for transition—may over time gradually come increasingly into conflict with what you need for consolidation of democracy and stability over time, and the government in South Africa will have to face that and hopefully will have the lee-way to start to chip away at some of the deals without scarring away money or necessary skilled people—but make the changes to provide the change in the majority of people's lives so that people feel that they got something from this change so that the country can be consolidated as a stable democracy.

PORTER: Well, I'd like to bring this conversation back—and my final question here really to our original topic of comparative race relations—Is there something that we in the United States can learn from this endeavor—is there some benefit to looking at race relations in Brazil and South Africa—is there a benefit for our American audience that—can we learn some lessons from what we've seen in Brazil and South Africa.

COSE: Well the lesson Brazil we've talked about a bit and I think it's the obvious one—which is that you need to be honest in terms of what's really happening with race in your country and Brazil has had a huge experience in being dishonest—I think the lessons from South Africa are emerging—I mean this is a very new experiment and Mandela is in this first and presumably only term—and it's an experiment in process—but what they are trying to do in a very, very quick way is to reverse the impact of decades of Apartheid—I think we're going to have to wait and see how they do it to be able to say what lessons we're going to get from that—but in fact they're successful—I think what it's going to tell us is that we have made some awful miscalculations of what kind of time it takes to change a history of discrimination and racism.

MARX: I agree with Ellis and what he's just said—I guess the only thing I would add is that I think looking comparatively and historically also reveals to us that issues of race aren't tangential issues—even say in the United States—to the development of how the country has thought of itself how it has conceived of itself as a nation. Seems to me—looking comparatively leads us to the conclusion that the exclusion of African Americans from much of our history was a central part of the way in which White Americans were able to unify themselves across regions—north and south after the Civil War across ethnicities—that, that was an important basis of nationalism in American—not simply a side issue as liberal analysts have long argued—and that, that means it's deeply—issues of race are deeply imbedded in our national psyche and that we need to re-think what defines us as a nation—we're tying to do that amidst current debates on multi-culturalism etc. and we may want to look further at the South African current experience of finding a way of defining a nation a that is not based on exclusion on race in the way that it was in South Africa's past and in our own past so that we can find a way to bind up the nations wounds without inflecting new wounds by excluding some in that project.

PORTER: That is Professor Anthony Marx from Columbia University—he's the author of a forthcoming book titled Race Making and the Nation's State. Our other quest is Newsweek magazine Contributing Editor, Ellis Cose—his recent book is titled Color Blind—Seeing Beyond Race in a Race Obsessed World—for Common Ground, I'm Keith Porter.

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