In the long history of violent conflict in South Africa the main cleavages have been almost always on either racial or ethnic lines. Since the early nineteenth century English and Afrikaners have opposed one another in a long sequence of incidents culminating in the Second Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902; whites and the various indigenous groups have confronted each other in a series of frontier wars from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century and more recently in a bitter political struggle. In United States history race and ethnicity have also been important, although not the sole, dimensions of conflict. Frontier wars with Indians and the long dispute over the extension of slavery which led to the Civil War dominated the nineteenth century. International affairs on issues such as relations with Japan over immigration and the history of United States imperialism and expansionism in the Western Hemisphere have been influenced directly by racism. Even today the salience of race in internal conflicts and group violence is obvious, and it is not difficult to find evidence of racism in the conduct of American foreign policy.
The situations in Mexico and Brazil are clearly different from those in South Africa and the United States. In the Latin American countries the ethnic and racial aspects of conflict subsided in importance after the period of conquest. By the time of Independence in Mexico social class and political factionalism had become the major dimensions of internal conflict. The Revolution had, of course, some ethnic undertones reflected in an ideology of indígenismo, but it was fought predominantly on social and political issues like land distribution and presidential succession. Brazil enjoyed, by and large, a less turbulent history than the other three countries, but, as in Mexico, the relative salience of race and ethnicity in conflicts has been low. Regionalism, political factionalism (such as the traditional army-navy rivalry), and more recently social class have defined the major lines of cleavage in Brazil. In colonial times the conflict between the Jesuits and the lay settlers, though it revolved around the treatment of Indians, was not directly ethnic or racial.
All four societies have a colonial past with a history of autocratic rule over, and economic exploitation of, the indigenous or slave population. However South Africa and the United States have been characterized by a much more overt and virulent form of racism and by a system of rigid color castes. Colonial Mexico also had a fairly rigid structure of castas partially based on race, but these distinctions became obsolete early in the nineteenth century.
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