America: Land of the Brave and Not-So-Free

While South Africa was barring A US pastor who’d expressed his bigotry towards the LGBT community from entering our country, the US was voting out an amendment that bars discrimination against employees on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. And this happened before Trump. America, land of the brave but not-that-free, is lagging behind. From my vantage point all the way on the other side of the world, discrimination seems like a way of life over there.

I voted for the first time in South Africa’s first democratic election in 1994. I watched my country transform from an apartheid state into a rainbow nation, and in that time, I began to notice a few odd things about the USA: You were nowhere near legalising gay marriage even years after we had made it a constitutional right, and your racism has been frozen in a dark stasis for a quarter of a century.

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A 2015 study revealed that the median Caucasian household had a net worth that was 17.5 times that of the median black home. South Africa’s Caucasians have a net worth that’s 15 times that of black families. Why the comparison? Because black Americans have been voting without disenfranchisement since 1966. South Africa only broke free of segregation in 1994, yet we’ve achieved more in 20 years than the US has in almost 50.

Worse: the US’s wealth gap is only increasing.

South Africa hasn’t evolved nearly enough, but what do these comparisons say about America?

A year back, The Right Wing News ran the headline: “Outrageous: Black lives matter rioters shoot two Missouri Policemen.” I had to wonder how outrageous the 32 African American deaths on the same day seemed to them. Or were they not outrageous because black lives don’t matter?

I’m intimately acquainted with the photographs that came out of the apartheid era, so when faced with Ferguson’s protest pictures, I felt an awful dread and a terrible nostalgia. I was not the only one. Joe Scarborough likened Ferguson to apartheid based purely on the lack of diversity in its police force, but for South Africans, the similarities are more far-reaching and sinister.

“Ferguson explains more about South Africa, and South Africa more about Ferguson, than anyone would like to admit.” Richard Poplak

When I recently laid the apartheid state alongside today’s America, I was called absurd, but the numbers prove the comparison to be realistic. America is further behind the rest of the world than it seems to realise, and South Africans are noticing for a chilling reason: we have been there.

“Discrimination has torn South Africa apart for the past 350 years. We will [therefore] fight discrimination everywhere.” South Africa’s UN representative, Jerry Matjila.


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