June 12, 2020

America is Not Apartheid State

Some protesters marched by our office in downtown DC this week. One young man carried a sign declaring; “The US Is An Apartheid State.” He likely was in his twenties, so he doesn’t remember when South Africa’s white minority regime fell nearly 30 years ago, along with many other repressive regimes around the world. He also likely doesn’t know much about Apartheid.

Under Apartheid, South Africa’s whites, who were about 16% of the population, disenfranchised the rest of the country and kept virtually all power to themselves. Blacks couldn’t vote and were mostly precluded from owning property or major businesses. They could only live in certain regions or neighborhoods. Certain jobs were precluded to them. They could not marry whites, and they were segregated in public places. The nation was nearly exclusively run by the Afrikaner whites, while British whites were in opposition. Mixed race and Indian persons had separate categories and restrictions. This racial, political and economic system was kept in place by a police surveillance state.

It’s not clear how exactly this young DC protester thought America resembled South Africa under Apartheid. Firstly, he would not be permitted to protest under Apartheid. He was marching through the streets of the nation’s capital, protected not harassed by. police, in a city that’s had black mayors and progressive government for over 50 years. DC was desegregated nearly 70 years ago.

The young man thinks because America like all countries has injustices and prejudices that therefore it equals Apartheid. He doesn’t understand what Apartheid was. Likely his only experience is of America, full of freedoms and opportunity, whose liberties include a penchant to obsess over and exaggerate America’s failings.

America is always self-critical, reforming, and striving to self-correct. It’s never satisfied with itself, nor should it ever be. America’s energy and moral authority depend on this constant drive for self-improvement, which dates to our Puritan and revivalistic past. We as a nation identify our sins, repent, and seek atonement. The cycle is always repeating. Sometimes, like St. Paul, we think of ourselves as the chief of sinners.

This stance can be good for humility as a starting point for repentance. Not many other countries think this way. Not many other countries think of themselves as a spiritual enterprise. And not many other countries obsess over their sins in their constant search for moral improvement.

Obsession over national sins helps preclude arrogance and hubris. But if lacking perspective and a sense of proportion this obsession can itself become egotistical. Nobody sins as much as we! We are supreme at sin! Americans, even the most guilt-ridden, anti-American ones, are often obsessed with America.

America is special and unique. But in its proclivity towards sin it is not exceptional. We have no monopoly on injustice. Our obsession with confronting and correcting injustice on a grand scale is fairly unique. Sometimes our crusades against injustice domestic or global can themselves become hubristic. Our repentance from sin and search for atonement can sometimes itself be worse than the original sins.

Confronting national sins is imperative but it must start with realistic self-appraisal, not myopic self-hatred. And it must be pursued with appreciation that all humanity, in its intrinsic sinfulness, is starting from the same place. Repentance also assumes that atonement is available, otherwise renouncing sin has no positive outcome.

The young protester who thinks he’s in an Apartheid state is not starting from reality. He’s effectively negating many generations before him who labored and sacrificed so America would be much better. He seems to think he and his kindred spirits have themselves discovered righteousness for the first time.

Here’s what’s key to national repentance. Its advocates have to admit they themselves are also part of the problem. They can’t just wag their fingers at others. True prophets admit they have unclean hands and lips. They pronounce themselves unworthy. They shudder when pondering their own frailty compared to their holy mission. Self-righteous crusades blaming others don’t achieve national repentance or reforms.

The young protesting man likely doesn’t know his history. But Apartheid fell amid a global revolution against dictatorship. Most spectacularly the Soviet Union fell, with its proxies in East Europe. The Sandinistas were ousted in Nicaragua. Mengistu’s murderous regime in Ethiopia fell, as Marxist regimes in Angola and Mozambique abandoned their destructive doctrines. Right-wing authoritarian regimes surrendered to democratic elections in South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Chile, Argentina, and throughout Latin America. Thousands were released from prisons. Millions began to vote and claim political rights they never had before.

America played a central role in that global democratic revolution of 30 years ago as an example and advocate. But millions of people in their own countries sacrificed and labored to reform their nations. Nelson Mandela emerged from decades in prison to lead South Africa. Other formerly jailed dissidents likewise rose to leadership as former dictators slinked away.

There’s no dictatorship in America, nor is there Apartheid, thanks to countless generations across centuries who labored to construct, sustain and improve our democracy. Protesters who with humility and earnestness wish to improve and expand our democracy will, we pray, receive heavenly blessing for success.

But ignorance, ingratitude, and self-righteousness will not be blessed. True social reformers seek mercy and depend on grace, recognizing they always stand on the accomplishments of others gone before.


16 Responses to America is Not Apartheid State

  1. Michael McInnis says:

    Thank you, Mark, for an amazing, thoughtful article. You’ve provided some needed perspective for our situation today. For those of us who are preaching this Sunday in the midst of this chaos across our nation, you’ve provided some helpful historical data some of us will be sharing with our people – I know I will.

  2. EdenSprings says:

    Well, there’s this from 2016:

    Maybe we should all agree on the facts first?

    • Rebecca says:

      In your own words, what has America done recently to keep blacks down? I can give you examples going back to colonial days of Americans being for black liberation. They even had a civil war over it, where the slaves were frees. That was over 150 years ago. If you don’t think any of that counts, what about all the laws against discrimination in work and housing, etc?

  3. Gary Bebop says:

    Keep up your courage, Mark. Don’t stop speaking truth to the dying frogs.

  4. Henry Stokes says:

    OK , so this one protester chose a word that is more symbol than real.
    What are we to make of your verbal dismantling of his protest? Only the humble can protest? We don’t have apartheid so we have no racism in America? Black Lives don’t matter? No problem blacks average 59% the earnings of whites in America? We can ignore the KKK and fellow travelers? We passed civil rights laws so we don’t need to monitor things like closing voting places in minority neighborhoods?
    Jesus was willing to advocate for the poor, for the prisoner, for the afflicted, for the outcast — to stand unafraid against the money changers, against the powers that be, and send followers boldly through streets and cities across the Roman Empire to preach his word.
    Sorry, no one of us is perfect, but marching for what we are taught as Christians to do is not humility.

  5. Robert k Zentmyer says:

    Thank you Mark for your thoughtful comments. I was particularly take by the fact that you did not lighten our responsibility to continue to work to bring true equality nor did you excuse us for our sins of ignoring the need for change. History should have taught us that civilization-wide change takes time, measured by years and even centuries. Jesus died for our sins over 200 years ago and we have made some progress in our attempts to reach his view of what a christian should be but we are certainly not there and probably never will be. But, as you point out there has been progress and we should not ignore that history.

    • Henry Stokes says:

      So if your face is pushed to the ground and a shoe in your neck, we expect you to say: “I can’t breathe, but owe’ve made progress.”

  6. William says:

    And just like that we woke up in another dimension reminiscent of the old TV show, “The Twilight Zone”. This perfect storm is producing everything from guilt provoking catharsis to the rage of burning and looting of thy neighbor while in the middle of a health crisis. Surely the time is coming when this storm ends, some sense can be made of this madness, and all Americans can get back to living, working, worshiping, reforming, and moving forward together again.

  7. Donald says:

    Mark – This is the central paragraph, “The young protester who thinks he’s in an Apartheid state is not starting from reality. He’s effectively negating many generations before him who labored and sacrificed so America would be much better. He seems to think he and his kindred spirits have themselves discovered righteousness for the first time.”

    This hubris is what we get when our students think real history is “boring” or take classes taught by those whose agenda is to convert others and fill their skulls of mush with propaganda. Unfortunately this hubris has taken over denominational officials and seminary faculty since the 1960’s.

    • Lee D. Cary says:

      “Unfortunately this hubris has taken over denominational officials and seminary faculty since the 1960’s.”

      Donald, you are correct. I witnessed it happen.

  8. George says:

    You can never fully appreciate this country of ours till you have lived elsewhere. We are not perfect and never will be but, what other country on the face of this earth does so much for the poor and gives opportunity to so many? And most of all, it allows its citizens to practice what ever religion they choose to. Yes, not perfect but better than all the rest.

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