Race and Crime in a White Settler Society
A number of factors are cited to explain the causes of crime in urban, industrialized societies. They range from the biological to the sociological. However, if one considers the societies with the highest rates of imprisonment, the one factor that is consistent among them is their status as a white settler country dominated by the ideology of white supremacy. Those two societies are the United States and South Africa.
Both countries were founded upon the displacement and subordination of non-white aboriginals. While differences in their historical evolution and demographic character make a direct comparison difficult, the two countries share the tendency to make racial differentiation the basis of social exclusion and a permanent underclass status. While other societies are not devoid of racial supremacist doctrines and some have eliminated problems of racial conflict through race genocide or biological assimilation, the United States and South Africa are unique in their systematic attempt to restrict class mobility to a sector of the population characterized by its light pigmentation.1
The case of South Africa is fairly simple: Its principle of white supremacy is embodied in its constitution. The United States, on the other hand, professes to be a color-blind democracy, after dismantling all the legal and official vestiges of racial inferiority among its citizenry. In reality, America only shifted from the practice of racial subordination based on physical characteristics to racial subordination based on class membership. The subordinate group remained the people of color, but it was their status as the underclass that determined their treatment, not their skin color.2 In the United States, race and class have become synonymous.