Black Lives: A global perspective

In the first half of 2020, headlines around the world have been repeatedly dominated by news stories about black Americans who were killed by police officers.  There were approximately 90 such cases up to June 5.

This attention in the media creates the impression that violence is a problem unique to African descendants living in America.  But out of 1.3 billion black Africans worldwide — with some 200 million in the diaspora — only 48 million live in the United States.  That's 36 out of 1,000.  In 2050, it's projected to be only 24 out of 1,000.  In the sub-Saharan region, which today has 1.1 billion inhabitants, at least 9 million people have died in violent conflicts since 1970 (calculated from here).  In addition, according to a calculation published in Lancet, in this region, between 1995 and 2015 alone, some 5 million children under the age of five lost their lives in more than 15,000 outbreaks of violence — from tribal conflicts to genocides.

America's blacks have a special place in the African diaspora, with a 2019 per capita purchasing power of $28,000.  This totals $1.3 trillion, which sounds impressive.  But it does not change the fact that black families with assets of $17,000 have only a tenth of the financial reserves of white families.  However, this so-called "white privilege" is not the only problem for blacks.  Compared with the family incomes of fellow Americans who come from East Asia and India, blacks are even worse off.  This disadvantage is repeated in the mathematical university entrance test (SAT) of 2019, in which they score 457 points, while children of Chinese or Korean extraction score 637 points, far ahead of whites as well as all other U.S. ethnicities.

According to the World Bank, in 2018, sub-Saharan Africa had a gross national product of $1.7 trillion.  This region thus matches the economic performance of Canada's 37 million citizens. Since this sum means that the 1.1 billion Africans living in this region have an annual income of $1,500, one can quickly see how much effort will be necessary to raise them to the modest but nevertheless nineteen-times-higher level of their American brethren.

Moreover, the scale of this task is growing by leaps and bounds.  In 1950, only one in twelve world citizens was African.  Today, it is one in six.  In thirty years' time, it will be one in four. The 2.1 billion inhabitants who are expected to be living in the sub-Saharan region in 2050 outnumber Germany by a factor of 25.  For Switzerland or Austria, the factor is 250.

It is children under 15 who show most clearly where our demographic journey is heading.  Forty out of every 100 children worldwide in 2050 — it was ten in 1950 — will live between Chad and Namibia.  Together with the offspring in Africa's global diaspora, blacks will account for almost half of the world's children.

The most capable Africans tend to be skeptical about the future of their continent.  They know, for example, that of the 253,000 PCT patent applications for 2018, which were screened with particular rigor, only 300 come from the sub-Saharan region.  With South Africa excluded, the figure is 25, one ten thousandth of the total.  This is one of the reasons why the region is particularly hard hit by the job losses caused by premature deindustrialization.

It is clear that Africans who hope to reach or surpass the income standard of their American compatriots will have to emigrate.  According to a Gallup survey in 2017, about a third of black Africans plan to do so.  That would mean that today, around 365 million Africans are ready to make the difficult journey abroad.

Their chances would seem to be best in the European cultural area.  In China, which today criticizes America's racial problems, there are only 16,000 blacks in a total population of 1.44 billion.  Among the 127 million Japanese are only 9,000 Africans.  The Anglo states — with the exception of the USA —  require proof of high competence before allowing immigrants to cross their borders.  The European Union is their best hope and also the easiest to reach geographically.  With 450 million inhabitants (excluding the U.K.), the E.U. is home to a maximum of 13 million Africans.  In 2019, 30 out of a hundred felt they were being treated improperly.  By contrast, 43 percent of blacks in the USA in 2016 still felt the sting of inequality.  Europe appears to benefit from its distance from the history of slavery in North America.

If the E.U. wants to match the share of the black population in the USA (approx. 14 %), it will need to a black population of some 60 million — i.e., it would need 47 million more immigrants from the sub-Saharan region.  Germany alone — with only 750,000 black citizens — would need to welcome eleven million additional Afro-Germans to come close to the diversity of the United States.  But significantly fewer than 100,000 Germans have responded to calls for demonstrations for George Floyd.

Although welcoming close to 50 million blacks in Europe would require a Herculean effort, it wouldn't make much difference to population pressures inside Africa.  There, if the Gallup percentages of 2017 remain unchanged, in 2050, as many as 700 million people will still want to leave their native countries.  The two continents would simply become decidedly more similar to each other, and to America.

Prof. Gunnar Heinsohn (*1943; emeritus of Bremen University/Germany) taught war demography at the NATO Defense College in Rome from 2011 to 2020.

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