Did you know black/white wealth inequality in the USA is now worse than it was in Apartheid South Africa?

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December 20, 2014 by Paul Goldsmith

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Sometimes, the only way to tell a shocking story is through comedy.

There was a fascinating exchange last week on Jon Stewart’s Daily  Show as he introduced a new regular contributor, the comedian Trevor Noah. In amongst the usual banter that Stewart engages in with his sidekicks, Noah, a black South African, introduced the audience to a fascinating point about today’s USA. It should give anyone pause for thought.

The segment started with Noah showing Stewart pictures side by side and asking him to guess whether they were taken in Africa or in the USA. The first picture was of a pot-holed road, juxtaposed with a picture of a busy motorway. Stewart (acting, of course), thought the road in disrepair must be in Africa, but in fact Noah had taken a picture of it out of the window of his taxi on the way from the Airport to his hotel in New York. The next picture was of the type of domestic squalor many of us assume Africans live with every day, juxtaposed with some middle class children sitting in rows in a classroom working on laptops. The domestic squalor was from Detroit, with the children at school.

Noah then cut to an interview with New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof, who has spent a lot of time travelling the world documenting poverty. Kristof pointed out the USA incarcerates more African Americans as a percentage than Apartheid South Africa did. But that’s not all. There is a bigger gap between the median wealth of a white family and the median wealth of a black family in America than there ever was in Aparthied South Africa.

Just stop and think about that. Then you might understand why Noah felt the need to congratulate the USA on this latter fact. South Africa, to achieve that kind of black and white wealth gap, had to construct an entire Apartheid state in which blacks weren’t allowed to vote or own property but the USA did it without even trying. Noah said that it is like the South Africans trained for decades to create real inequality and the Americans just waltzed in and won the gold medal. He finished off by telling Stewart that African mothers tell their children “be grateful for what you have, because there are fat children starving in Mississippi.”

I am a big fan of Jon Stewart. I heartily recommend his show, which is on Comedy Central extra late at night, but is what Sky plus was made for. He covers serious global and political issues with great humour, and is courageous too in a country where political polarisation is such and TV channels have no political impartiality rules. Unlike many on the left in Britain (and on the right in the USA), Stewart is happy to have his political opposites on his show, and debate with them, rather than try to silence them.

But it is segments like the one with Trevor Noah where he is at his best. Because they did it in a way that is very hard to forget.

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