Apartheid, just less black and white: ‘Inequality is the new apartheid. “Your life path is largely determined before birth’; Kansas City & Madison per student spending fails to address the gap

Simon Kuper

I especially see apartheid in the US. True, the country has made racist speech taboo. Use a racial epithet in public and your career combusts. That’s lovely. However, American school taxes are usually raised locally, and many neighbourhoods are segregated, and so most poor black children attend underfunded schools where they learn just enough to do lowly jobs for whites. The US later tries to airlift a few victims out of the ghetto through “affirmative action”, but by then the damage is done. Like apartheid South Africa, the US ensures through schooling that most black people won’t succeed. It just doesn’t call this “Bantu education”.

My instinctive measure of a society is how closely it resembles South African apartheid. On that score the Netherlands – despite ample racist speech – arguably beats the US, because the Dutch give so-called “black schools” more funding than white suburban schools. Similarly, ethnically mixed-up London has less apartheid than segregated Paris.

South African apartheid determined people’s life paths from before birth. If you were a white embryo, you’d be fine. A black embryo wouldn’t. I remember, aged about 16, sitting on the porch of some ridiculous white adult fraud, listening to him preach about the stupidity of his black servants, and realising: this guy needs to believe he made his own success. Few people at the top can think, “Luckily, I chose the right parents.” Instead they tell themselves a story about work and talent – even though their maid probably outworks them, and nobody ever cared whether she had talent.

Inequality is the new apartheid. Your life path is largely determined before birth. The ruling classes pass on their status by sending their children to exclusive schools, much like in apartheid Johannesburg.

Happily, ethnicity is no longer always decisive. Still, today’s apartheid delivers outcomes as unequal as the old apartheid did. One measure of a society’s inequality is its Gini coefficient. South Africa’s Gini in 1995, just after apartheid, was a shocking 0.59 (where 0 is perfect equality, and 1 is perfect inequality). But Manhattan today has almost exactly the same Gini: 0.6, according to the US Census Bureau. Amazingly, South Africa itself has become less equal since apartheid: by 2009 the country’s Gini had risen to 0.63, says the World Bank.

From the comments:

There are several key errors regarding school funding- many of the poorest performing schools spend the most per pupil. Schools and taxes are funded at the local AND state level, as well as directed by school boards elected locally and state DOE’s … these have been run almost exclusively by one philosophical perspective for more than 50 years, with the corruption and lack of accountability that comes with it … and results have gotten worse, not better. Maybe time for a change of concept!?!

Madison spends about double the national average per student yet has long tolerated disastrous reading results. Money may be a factor, but as the Kansas City experiment reveled, it is hardly decisive.