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Racial and class discrimination in assessments of "just desert" in post-apartheid Cape Town

Year: 2007
Working paper number: 199
Author: Seekings, Jeremy
Unit: SSU

In multi-racial or otherwise multi-cultural societies, people may discriminate in the allocation of scarce resources against members of particular racial or cultural groups. This paper examines how people in post-apartheid Cape Town – a city characterized by both inequality and cultural diversity – assess the 'desert' of others in terms of access to social assistance from the state and employment opportunities. The paper uses attitudinal data from two sets of vignettes included in a 2005 survey of a representative sample of adults. The paper extends the findings of previous studies that a wide range of South Africans distinguish between deserving and undeserving poor on the basis, primarily, of their willingness or ability to work and their responsibility for dependents. The paper also confirms the preliminary findings of previous research that there is little racial discrimination in respondents' assessment of how deserving the subjects were in a narrow range of vignettes, but that race and class are significant in that richer and especially rich, white respondents are more generous in their assessment of what deserving people should receive. There is stronger evidence that racial considerations are relevant with respect to popular assessments of the justice of employment decisions, although it is difficult to distinguish (using available data) between racial prejudice (on the part of the respondents) and a principled opposition to affirmative action (i.e. opposition to perceived unfair racial discrimination on the part of employers or the state).

Publication file: WP199.pdf