Support networks and racial inequality in Namibia
Community support is a critical source to sustain livelihoods in the Global South. At the same time, these practices can exhibit unequal dynamics such as disincentives, hierarchies, or adverse inclusion of individuals. However, an understanding of such is primarily tied to the conceptual space of poverty or small communities.
Less is known about how social support systems might respond to structural inequalities within a society. This article explores how support practices might be shaped by or respond to structurally inherited inequalities in the Namibian context.
By drawing on primary network data, it is assessed that racial inequality as a social dynamic within the space of practising solidarity towards others and further evaluate whether providing worse off others corresponds to consequences of former discriminatory practices under the apartheid regime.
My results suggest that racial inequality shapes support practices and meaning. For black Namibians, this can entail that support among family members is a necessary act to redress economic imbalances stemming from former discriminatory policies. For white Namibians, support to worse off others seems to be an act of choice that primarily involves socially distanced contacts.
I propose that racial inequality has normalized a sense of support as a necessity for black but not white Namibians. This can lead to sharing one’s merits with members of the extended family for black Namibians, rather than accumulating, saving, or re-investing its outcomes. More broadly, by recognizing differences in group practices, I evidence that exploring support practices across structural inequalities can enhance insights on the social replication of inter- and intragroup-based inequalities.