E-Letter To Walter Williams Re: "Were Blacks Better Off Under Apartheid?" (Part 1)

I have been meaning now, for a couple of weeks to respond to your column titled as a question, "Were Blacks Better Off Under Apartheid?" Although I think you raised some important facts, I can't help but wonder what it is about this tendency among supposedly race-neutral conservatives that causes them to use racial arguments when it serves their interests against Black and White liberals. Why now, I thought, would a conservative openly suggest that a race-centered regime, like apartheid, is in the better interests of Blacks? The question, and even more importantly, the why behind it is very interesting, to me.

But what I found most striking in your presentation was the apparent negation of the right of self-determination; and the allowance for mistakes, errors, violence, policy ineptitude and corruption among Blacks, that Whites have been permitted to manifest throughout history. South Africa, post-apartheid, is really not even 10 years old, yet you hold it accountable to a standard that itself took multiple decades to establish. I noticed this same spirit or attitude in CBS' Mike Wallace in 1996 when he interviewed Minister Farrakhan for a 60 Minutes episode and labeled the country of Nigeria, barely 35 years old, "the most corrupt nation that I have ever been too." The Minister, to put it mildly, was not pleased with Mr. Wallace's characterization. In response to part of the Minister's sharp and intense reaction, Mike Wallace asked the Minister if he could "name another" country more corrupt than Nigeria. And the Minister, without hesitation, answered, "Yeah, I am living in one." He then proceeded to explain how unfair it was that Mr. Wallace would judge Nigeria as he did, after only 35 years of existence, as an independent nation, when it was true that in America, after almost 200 years of existence, Black citizens were not permitted to even go to the same restaurants and toilets as White members of society, or allowed to vote, unimpeded. Ironically, the Minister noted that this miserable treatment of Blacks in America, was still in effect when Nigeria was founded.

The answer to your question, "Were Blacks Better Off Under Apartheid?", is emphatically, no! Blacks were not better under apartheid. Why? Because for whatever mistakes and errors Blacks are making today, especially in the area of public policy, they in sum are better off for having the right and ability to ascend to a measure of self-rule - a necessary step for any person or community seeking to reach self-sufficiency, and the fullest measure of self respect and self-love.

But specifically, in terms of the best measurement of any government or quality of life in any society - the degree of freedom, justice and equality experienced by its members - Blacks in South Africa are better off today, though according to many measurements, not by much. That the measure of improvement in terms of freedom, justice and equality is as small as it is, we also can recognize, is a result of apartheid.

Mr. Williams, as you well know, apartheid is a system by which human beings are denied justice, have limited freedom and are made unequal on the basis of color. It is a system based upon the supremacy of one race over all others, but at its root, apartheid is really a religious regime, where false history is used to serve a false governing theology with the outcome being one group of people serving as the economic tool of another. Its impact is spiritual, even more than it is physical. The end result is a superiority complex in the group that rules and an inferiority complex in the group that is lorded over - White supremacy in one group, and Black inferiority in the other. When apartheid officially ended, the external racist government dissolved significantly, but the internal government and its laws and statutes were indelibly written into the minds and hearts of its White and Black citizens.

The question, that you might have posed that may have allowed you to see why apartheid, and slavery in the Western Hemisphere, are the lowest forms of government possible, is , "Were Whites Better Off Over Apartheid?" The answer is no, because the White supremacy mindset is a form of delusion. It makes Whites believe that they are the true center of everything. And, of course, having not created or originated the universe they are not the true center of everything, even of themselves. And look at that word center, which means, "a point, axis, etc. around which anything rotates or revolves; the source of an influence, action, force; a person upon which interest or emotion focuses; the core or middle of anything." A goverment where Whites are the center, is a government that places Whites under a delusion and Blacks under an illusion. Neither group could, today, be possibly "better off" under apartheid.

So, in essence, your right to ask is legitimate, but the question you pose is illegitimate because it is founded on a faulty premise - that apartheid actually ended. "Officially", yes, but spiritually, no. If you don't agree that Black inferiority and White supremacy pathologies don't still govern millions in South Africa, how do you explain the unique underperformance of Blacks that you point to in your piece? Is it truly solely the ANC's fault, the outcome of some of its failed policies, in just 8 years of rule? Could you prove that causation and correlation?

Another reason why your question cannot be considered as legitimate is because its mere presentation, devoid of historical context, is evidence of an especially deleterious double-standard. When Whites were killing each other in the 30 years war that irrevocably changed Europe's landscape, for example, who argued that Europe would have been better off still groping around during the Middle Ages? And what American political scientist and economist today, would dare to make the argument that because of the earliest mistakes and errors made by the governments in the 13 colonies in the "New World", that the colonists would have been better off if Christopher Columbus had never discovered this inhabited hemisphere, for the benefit of Europeans? And what conservative historian today when reflecting over how the United States was killing itself during its civil war makes the case that America would have been better under British colonial rule? Yet, I hear time and time again from conservative intellectuals that Africa somehow would be "better off" under the colonial rule of Europeans. I see, at least, a double-standard in effect.

What makes the American civil war example even more powerful is that the war which claimed millions took place almost 90 years after the Declaration Of Independence was written and 80 years after the Constitution was written and the United States government was established. Judging the country in the midst of its greatest internal crisis with the standards that you use Mr. Williams would have justified anybody in arguing that Americans had proven that they could not handle the responsibilities attached to self-government. After all, isn't 80 years enough time to get it right? As is often argued in the case of Africa by some, is it not pure savagery to have half of a country pitted against another half in violent armed conflict when a working government and its foundational documents are still in place? Furthermore, isn't the fact that half of the country at that time was slave and the other half free another fatal indictment on this country's ability to govern? Can't that be argued Mr. Williams? If so, then South Africa is in great shape when compared to the United States' early history or at least it is in good company, wouldn't you say? Yet, here you are Mr. Williams, with a few others, raising the possibility and question, in the case of South Africa, that Blacks are not better off than they were when colonized. You offer a static analysis rather than a dynamic evaluation that would respect the process and ongoing efforts at self-rule, only a decade after the country was "freed" from the grip of apartheid. South Africa's efforts at governance receive a static and narrow number-crunchers' view, while America's earliest days receive the most dynamic and nuanced of reviews. Again, I have yet to hear a single of the more prominent conservatives - White or Black - who is so quick to announce the death or non-redemption of the Black experience with independence in Africa, who is willing to say that this country, the United States of America, in 1863, would have been better off returned to the British Crown. Perhaps I have not read enough.

I also find your suggestion peculiar in its avoidance of the usual conservative recipe for all governing ailments: the "free markets, democracy, and the rule of law" remedy that conservative intellectuals commonly frame as the political penicillin for poor, statist and undemocratic nations. Why is South Africa so different after less than a decade? Instead of holding out this traditional American torchlight for the rest of the world, you instead outright state that South Africans, better than the slow progress they are making toward the West's political and economic model, were probably better off under apartheid. How can you hate totalitarian and statist regimes, and consistently persuade others of their destructive nature, and yet propose that Blacks were better off under apartheid? Mr. Williams, you do not even represent your own past arguments in what you uniquely propose for Blacks. What is it about your view of Blacks that allows you to imagine their well-being advanced through a form of government that stifles dissent, freedom of speech and critical analysis among Blacks? Or do you believe that apartheid fostered dissent, freedom of speech and critical analysis among Blacks? How would you argue that?

Here is how apartheid is defined in Webster's Third New international Dictionary, "racial segregation...a policy of segregation and political and economic discrimination against non-European groups in the Republic of So. Africa." What is it about South Africa that causes so many supposedly race-neutral conservatives and intellectuals to suggest that a blatant system of racial discrimination has been "better" for Blacks than a few baby steps taken, however haphazardly, to conform to the West's political image.

Having said that Mr. Williams, I think you should know that I largely agree with your assessment, made over the years, of the Black inferiority complex and that it has been and continues to be aided and abetted by White liberals who have never really felt comfortable with Black nationalist or pan-African principles as they apply to self-governance. In that sense, though their language is much more sympathetic in nature, they really are more comfortable with a struggling Africa dependent upon Western aid and benevolence than they are with a strong, independent Africa, totally free to chart its own course. In reference to Africa, I don't deem self-righteous conservatives to be any worse than patronizing liberals.

I also share your concerns over the lack of critical review of the impact of the fiscal, regulatory and monetary policies of African governments post-independence. And to that end you should study our analysis of the fall of the South African rand which you mention in your piece. But here again, Mr. Williams, the problem stems back to apartheid and the intellectual deference to economic theory and monetary policy popularized outside of Africa, as the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) has itself to blame for embracing an improper "inflation-targetting" policy. And here, the West has been no help, with publications like the Wall St. Journal depicting the SARB's head, T.T. Mboweni, as "Africa's Alan Greenspan." This type of paternalistic romanticism where African leaders are made to fit or resemble a White prototype is, again, another area where the Black inferiority - White superiority dynamic plays out. Unfortunately, many Blacks eat that type of charicterization up, as if it is some type of honor (Blacks in America have an even deeper problem in this area, which is why "integration" as we know it has failed in many respects), when really the true measure of success or excellence is not Black ascension to a White prototype but Black ascension to the highest standard of right or wrong; success or failure.

(End Of Part 1)

Cedric Muhammad

Tuesday, February 5, 2002