Reflections on 'systemic racism'

Phumlani Majozi says this gospel is alive and well in SA, not just the US

We all should be cognizant of the fact that racism exists. Anybody who denies that some people are racist is fooling themselves.

We witness and hear about racism in sport, politics, public and private institutions. It can be anywhere.

Over the past weeks, after the disturbing death of George Floyd in the arms of a white policeman in United States of America (US), the public debate on “systemic racism” – white racism specifically – is back on the public spotlight with much intensity.

There are people, in US, and around the world, who claim that “systemic racism” is a big problem and is a blockade to black people improving their livelihoods.

Like most people, I have thought about this deeply over the past weeks – and have come to the conclusion that this “systemic racism” claim is replete with flaws.

Let’s explore a few issues that have motivated those who parrot the notion that “systemic racism” is one of the biggest hurdles to black progress. I will focus on South Africa and US.

On police conduct in US, I don’t buy the argument that black people are a target of law enforcement on the basis of their race.

People who make this argument cite statistics – and when they cite statistics they go as far as only showing that more blacks are killed or stopped by the police than whites. And then they end there.

They also cite statistics showing high rates of incarcerations amongst blacks in comparison to other races and percentage of blacks in America’s total population. And then they end there again.

But to just end there is propaganda from their part. It’s classic propaganda. Because they tell half, insignificant information. Why tell half information?

Why do they ignore the high rates of criminality amongst blacks? Half of homicides are committed by blacks in America – this is when the black population is just 13% of the country’s total. Put murder aside, blacks are also more likely to cross red traffic lights on the streets, drive without a licence, and other kinds of traffic offending.

If one race commits disproportionate amount of criminal acts– it shouldn’t be surprising that the same race will more often than not, encounter cops and end up in prison. Simple logic to me. What then does that have to do with “systemic racism”?

Also, the argument that blacks are held back in general by “systemic racism” is very weak and senseless, as studied by a black economist Thomas Sowell of Hoover Institution. Black immigrants, and immigrants in general, do rise in America.

Nigerians – who are black – are highly educated and work in blue chip American companies. This fact alone is crucial – because it refutes the notion that blacks can’t rise because of racism in America.

Fareed Zakaria had a segment on his Cable News Network (CNN) show not long ago, where he touted the success of Nigerians in America.

Now moving to South Africa, the “systemic racism” gospel is alive here too, and is propagated by left-wing movements, such as Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and other organizations. They promote the narrative that the system is rigged against blacks. “White Monopoly Capital” is their slogan.

If you don’t step back and think, you’ll fall for EFF’s propaganda.

Here’s the truth: If you are skilled in South Africa, you’ll survive the labour market. Unemployment is lower amongst those who have tertiary qualifications – according to Statistics South Africa. And the less you are educated, the less income you’ll make in South Africa.

Black graduation rates have risen over the past twenty-five years – accompanied by a rise in black middle class that has surpassed that of whites. Shouldn’t that suggest the system is not rigged against blacks?

And then there are people who claim that a lack of black professors in our universities has to do with “systemic racism”. I don’t believe that.

Throughout my university studies – undergraduate and post-graduate – in two universities – in two different provinces – it was very rare to be taught by a black South African academic.

If I’m not mistaken, I was taught by only two black South African professors throughout my career as a full-time student. The rest who taught me were black foreigners – from Zambia, Nigeria and other African countries.

What I have seen tells me that our universities are not rigged against black academics – it’s South African blacks who are just not interested in being academics and teaching at universities. That is fine. There is nothing wrong with that. No fix or government intervention is needed here. When people’s interests are not the same it’s fine – no government intervention is needed.

And then there’s the private sector – where – according to last year’s Employment Equity Commission’s report – whites still dominate at top management level in South Africa.

White people hold 66.5% of top management positions, according to the Commission’s report last year. This is when whites are amongst the lowest economically active population group.

Black people made up 15.1% of the top management in 2018, up from 14.3% the previous year. Contrast this to the fact that more than 70% of the top management in the public sector is black.

We can’t dismiss these statistics. They are true. We would be delusional to dismiss them.

However, these statistics alone don’t tell us much. To claim racism by just citing these statistics alone is, again, classic propaganda.

We can’t conclude by looking at these statistics alone that the shortage of black management in the private sector is due to racism . To understand much, we’d have to look further and do more thinking.

The private sector operates very differently from the public sector – merit is more emphasized – and competition is fierce. Unlike in the public sector.

The majority of whites are middle class in South Africa – and remain better and more educated than blacks – according to Statistics South Africa. On skills and experience whites remain more competitive than blacks at management level. That doesn’t imply racism – it’s just the reality of our socioeconomic setting shaped by many things – including our history.

I’m not saying there aren’t cases where an unqualified white person is at a management level. It happens – just as it happens in the public sector. However, those cases aren’t the rule in the private sector – they are the exception. They are not widespread, is my point.

As soon as you look at qualifications and experience – you find that – on net balance – whites are ahead and blacks underrepresented in sophisticated fields. Hence the argument that it’s racism slowing transformation in the private sector collapses like a house of cards when you look at things from this perspective.

The issues I have explored above are far from being comprehensive – but I do hope they make you stop a bit and think before yelling “systemic racism”.

Not all of our shortcomings as a society can be attributed to racism. There are underlying socioeconomic conditions we need to pay more attention to – and that we have to address.

I would like to see racial diversity in South Africa’s private sector and I believe it should be encouraged. Over the past 25 years, the numbers on black management have been rising in the private sector – but not fast enough – and the slowness doesn’t have to do much with racism. There are underlying socioeconomic conditions that slow the transformation process.

With the African National Congress (ANC) and teacher unions continuously weakening and destroying basic education – the walk to racial diversity in private sector’s top management will remain slow.

Let me reiterate again that racism is alive. But not everything is racist or racism.

We must refrain from parroting the notion that “systemic racism” is the biggest problem facing us black people. It’s not. Facts disprove this notion.

Phumlani M. Majozi is a senior fellow at African Liberty. Views expressed here are his own. Follow him on Twitter: @PhumlaniMMajozi