Proposal/Benti | Ann Sheppard
Proposal: Research Paper for
Benti: The History of Africa
September 17, 2019
Extra-Legal Violence: A Comparative Exploration of South
Africa and The United States Usage During the Jim Crow Era
The inherent violence of race relations during the long nineteenth century between 1877 and 1919 of the United States (most notably the geographic South) and South Africa remain iconic expressions of White supremacy. Both countries generated appalling levels of physical violence against Black people, yet that violence manifested itself in quite different ways. The United States witnessed over 4000 state-sanctioned lynchings while South Africa produced not only the state-sanctioned structural violence of segregation but also a strong culture of private violence including the routine and severe mistreatment of Black mineworkers, flogging of farm laborers, and the casual hitting and kicking of workers that characterized innumerable worksites.
Yet South Africa never developed the tradition of lynching that characterized the American South. Lynching will be defined as the use of extra-legal killing of one or more people by three or more persons. Known by historians as a “lynch culture,” the public and ritualized spectacle of murder and mutilation of Black bodies that was such an inexorable part of African-American life in the age of Jim Crow did not materialize in South Africa. Instead there existed a "bureaucratic culture” of violence. Utilizing violence as a lens for exploring the distinctive type of “racial culture” of both country’s actions, this paper examines what is at once an obvious similarity between the United States and South Africa and one of their biggest distinctions: the typology of aggression in Black/White relations.
There were fundamentally different relationships that existed between White citizenry and the state in the two countries studied. In the case of the American South, the relative agreement of interests within the Southern ruling class, the limitations of the Federal system following failed Reconstruction, and White Southerners' continuing distrust following the Civil War and Reconstruction, of any government interference in relations between Blacks and Whites produced a society in which controlling and punishing Black people came to be seen as the responsibility of private citizens. Harassment and even lynching became a form of power-play, financial gamesmanship and even amusement.
In South Africa, keeping the native Black citizen in his place remained primarily the province of the state. Over the course of the long nineteenth century, an elaborate official bureaucracy developed to control the movements and limit the economic horizons of Black South Africans. These tactics included pass laws, job reservation, labor bureaus, bantustans and compounds that were not utilized in the Jim Crow American South. Although the recognized White mobs of citizens killing a Black man didn’t hap...