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Economic Apartheid in America

Local Voices

Elvis Slaughter

Over the past ten years, the toxic interactions among racial tensions, persistent inequality, and political polarization have cut short the promise of the benefits of South Africa’s transition from apartheid to democracy. It is interesting to note, however, that South Africa’s history has helped highlight the recent political travails of the United States. It explains how inequality and inclusion, on the one hand, and entrepreneurship and political ideas, on the other, can result in a positive spiral of political legitimacy, economic dynamism, and hope. However, it can equally lead to vicious downward spirals of political polarization, anger, and disillusionment.

South Africa successfully transitioned from a society that encouraged racial oppression into a nonracial democracy with a new government that promised its citizens “a better life.” Amid the initial jubilation and the promise of transition, South Africans hoped for a better life for themselves and their children. Unfortunately, the promise gradually faded and was overshadowed by economic apartheid. The possibility of the average person moving upward in the country remained limited.1

A vibrant civil rights movement and an equitable and steadily growing economy first fostered the hope for social and economic inclusion in the US. However, the hope that lasted a few decades turned to anger as the gains of growth became increasingly one-sided from the 1980s onward. The US economy in 2019 was less equal than it had been since the 1920s. The younger generation’s expectations for a better quality of life than their parents waned over the years.2

More than $82 trillion has been invested in US private equity and venture capital. However, less than 1.3 percent of this amount is invested in companies owned and run by women and people of color, implying that 98.7 percent of all venture capital money is provided to white men. This explains what economic apartheid means and is perhaps one major reason the number of successful African American business startups is so few. Economic apartheid reflects in various parts of our lives, not just fiscally.3

Based on research and practice in public health, access to secure and safe housing, supportive social networks, nutritious food, and clean water are all critical to people’s health. Like what happened under apartheid in South Africa, racism is expressed mainly as disinvestment in social determinants of health nationally. Exploitative, unequal race relations result in mutually reinforcing systems of racialized exclusion in education, voter rights, healthcare, housing, and criminal justice. Several studies, including Denton and Massey’s “American Apartheid,” have documented serious cases of deprivations in employment, and access to healthcare, housing, clean water, food, and education.4

For example, the employment of teachers of color at a high school in Lansing, Illinois, confirms such deprivation. Based on a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) report at the school district, African American students make up 62 percent of the total student population and 61 percent at the school level. Yet, 82.7 percent of all teachers are white, while African American teachers make up just 15.6 percent for the entire district.

The recruitment of educators of color does not reflect a diversified workforce, as no Black teacher has been hired in 2022 at this school. In 2022, there were 13 Black applicants, three Hispanic applicants, one Asian, and two who did not declare their race for teaching and administration positions. Only six whites applied, and five white teachers and one white assistant principal were hired in 2022. Only one Black person was hired, and that was for an assistant principal replacing a Black assistant principal. According to the FOIA, besides the one-sided recruitment at the Lansing school, the district has failed on the part of contractors, as there was not one African American or Hispanic contractor noted in the FOIA between 2018 and 2021, a period that totaled over 52.7 million dollars.5

Daily, people working in philanthropy and nonprofits deal with ever-growing economic inequality in the United States. About 40 million Americans live in poverty, and moving into the middle class has become increasingly difficult. The discriminatory practices in various sectors such as housing, business, and banking have resulted, over the years, in people of color falling behind economically. When the Second World War ended, whites benefited from several government policies that enabled them to move into the middle class. Unfortunately, people of color were largely locked out. Tens of millions of white families were encouraged to join the wealth-building express train while the government placed red lines on mortgage lending maps regarded as “no lend” zones in communities of color. This eventually contributed to the 30 percent home-ownership gap that exists.6

Over the years, racial and other inequalities have been justified based on the common belief that marginalized people will eventually “catch up” to create an equal society. However, a look at the current rate shows that achieving parity with white men would take 34 years for white women and 112 years for African American women. This indicates that greater effort is required in tackling persistent social inequities while ensuring the well-being of all.7

The challenge is not really about overthrowing an unjust political order; instead, it is renewing preexisting formal commitments to the belief that citizenship concerns some shared purpose. Confrontation might not be the best approach to this renewal. Perhaps a better approach would be a social movement established on a vision of shared citizenship. It should be a movement that focuses on cooperation, not as a weakness, but in pursuit of mutually beneficial possibilities and as a key to the sustainability of inclusive, open, and thriving societies.8


  1. Brian Levy, “How Inequality and Polarization Interact: America’s Challenges Through a South African Lens,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, April 27, 2022, retrieved November 27, 2022, from
  2. Levy, “How Inequality and Polarization Interact,” April 27, 2022.
  3. Michael Harriot, “For Don Peebles, ‘economic apartheid’ is not a figure of speech, TheGrio, November 25, 2022. retrieved November 28, 2022, from
  4. Jackie Smith and Noble Maseru, “ESSAY: American Apartheid: From diagnosis to treatment and prevention,” University Times, January 27, 2022, retrieved November 27, 2022, from
  5. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Request (TFD215), received September 1, 2022.
  6. Amy Costello and Frederica Boswell, “A Plan to Reverse ‘Economic Apartheid’ in the US,” Non-Profit Quarterly, May 29, 2019, retrieved November 28, 2022, from
  7. Levy, “How Inequality and Polarization Interact,” April 27, 2022.
  8. Levy, “How Inequality and Polarization Interact,” April 27, 2022.

Elvis Slaughter

Local Voices is our version of “Letters to the Editor.” The opinions posted here are those of the writers, and posting them does not indicate endorsement by The Lansing Journal. We welcome input from fellow residents who have thoughtful things to say about topics that are important to our community. Send your submissions to The Lansing Journal with “Voices” in the subject line.

Local Voices
Local Voices
Local Voices is The Lansing Journal's version of “Letters to the Editor.” The opinions posted here are those of the writers, and posting them does not indicate endorsement by The Lansing Journal. We welcome input from fellow residents who have thoughtful things to say about topics that are important to our community. Submissions may be sent to [email protected] with “Voices” in the subject line.


  1. Wow, what an eye opener. Beyond sadness, South Africa is no better off, financially, after Apartheid than previous. Blacks in general, everywhere, are still fighting for equality. Question remains, why? Why aren’t we teaching our children the importance of technology in the 21st Century? Why aren’t we teaching our children, their best is good enough if it is indeed their very best. Most importantly, why are we still living by that same program we were brought up on? Nothing will change until we change the program inside our heads, then we can make the transformation with our youth. Acceptance & Access to the Real Truth.

  2. Anyone who reduces equality to an experience that someone can impede or restrict is ignorant of what equality really is. Equality is not an experience. Equality is the foundation of our individual humanity. Therefore, equality is our natural state of existence. Every human that exists is/was created equal by God. No action of mere man can ever change this. It is these actions specifically, (one man obstructing another man) that demonstrate just how aware a man is of his own inherent equality. He must hinder his brother…. because if he does not……his brother is capable of accomplishing (at minimum) exactly what he himself is capable of accomplishing.
    Anyone who considers race to be the cause of systematic obstruction suffers from an additional ignorance or a denial of what they can clearly see if they look in a mirror. White supremacy is a mask, an illusion even. Men are always individuals. IT IS THE INDIVIDUAL MAN/WOMAN WHO SUFFERS FROM THE DELUSION OF HIS/HER OWN SUPERIORITY. That man needs an army to feed his insatiable lust for validation of his individual, invalid delusion. If that man is white, he will enlist white people. I that man is black he will enlist black people. Don’t think for 1 second that the current black regime in South Africa is not taking “their turn to (retaliate) oppress” white South Africans. People being in a click for the purpose of obstructing others is not unique to white people.
    If that man who needs an army is elite, he will enlist the poor. The popular narrative regarding segregation is intentional misleading. There were plenty of white illiterate, poor people in the south. There were black plantation owners (who owned black slaves) in the South. The man who obstructs another man from being free in their person to pursue life, liberty and happiness is motivated to such actions by the malevolence that spews out his own individual rotten heart. The presence of a mob does not absolve the individual of their own deep internal darkness. You must see yourself as superior if you can deed a human being to another human being or burn a man alive, or hang a man from a tree, or unlawfully arrest people just because you get a 20,000 raise if your arrest numbers are high.
    It doesn’t matter if it is America or South Africa. The entire world is affected by corruption. This world has not changed. The core of every political system that has ever existed is polarization. Superiority is not possible without antagony. This is why commercialized sports is so lucrative. The staged rivalry is a race to superiority that inflames the individual ego which is contained in the rotten heart. Democracy has never lived up to its contrived description. The political systems will always serve an individual.
    Government hand outs are not how we thrive. The GI bill was not the only way for a man to get an education. It was not the only way to buy a home. The GI bill was just another program that attempted to shore up the deficiencies that were becoming visible in a group that was classified as “superior”. What was behind the veil of white superiority must remain hidden at any cost. Blacks purchased homes without mortgages. Blacks went to colleges without getting government loans. Black started businesses and built fortunes without government assistance. Who every controls the system can obstruct you from ONLY that system. He who has 2 hands and looks for a “hand-out” has denied his own humanity.
    When political parties needed more votes, they let women into the system of voting. When the country needed more bodies for war, they let blacks into the system of the military. When an American political party needed more votes they weakened the borders. The delusion of superiority always produces systems that oppress. All such systems are color blind. A white lead military will fund and support an African guerrilla organization if its suits their individual purpose.
    We are not to blame if we are kidnapped and victimized by members of a malevolence-based system. We are 100% to blame if we surrender ourselves to be voluntary exploited by said systems. DO NOT LUST for their systems. Our value will never be based upon whether their system does or does not accept us. We have accomplished nothing if we get the opportunity to wear the same chains that they do. The supremacist is enslaved and chained to their delusion of superiority. This is a LOW place…not a high place.
    The high place exalts equality and is filled with people who acknowledge their own individual inherent value.

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