Black-white split on war support

sherrynstan at sherrynstan at
Thu Feb 27 11:49:32 MST 2003

Published on Wednesday, February 26, 2003
by the  Boston Globe

Blacks Have Good Cause to Oppose War in Iraq
by Derrick Z. Jackson

BLACK FOLKS do not want to invade Iraq. The question for Americans is
whether to view this as unpatriotic or as a tweet of sanity that warns us we
are about to walk into a horrific explosion. According to a poll by the Pew
Research Center for the People and the Press, 44 percent of
African-Americans support the use of military force in Iraq. That compares with 73 percent
of white Americans. Other polls show black support to be far less.

Earlier this month, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution/Zogby America poll
found that only 23 percent of African-Americans strongly or somewhat supported
a war, compared with 62 percent of white Americans. In January, a Gallup
poll found that 37 percent favored an invasion, compared with 58 percent of
white Americans.

Back in October, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies,
which generally does the most extensive polling of African-Americans, found
that only 19 percent of African-Americans supported a war with Iraq.

The reasons are obvious. African-Americans are 12 percent of the general
population but make up 21 percent of military personnel and 30 percent of
Army enlistees. They made up 23 percent of the troops sent to the 1991 Gulf
War. The Department of Defense recently attempted to downplay those
disproportionate percentages, reporting that African-Americans were more likely to
be in administrative and support jobs and therefore were less likely than
white soldiers to be killed on the front lines. White soldiers made up 71
percent of the troops in the 1991 Gulf War but suffered 76 percent of the

That ignores why African-Americans go into the service in the first place.
Many of them are refugees from a job and collegiate environment that is
disproportionately hostile to them. President Bush recently stoked the
hostility by filing a brief to the Supreme Court opposing the University of
Michigan's affirmative action program.

That alone is enough to make African-Americans wonder whether they are
about to relive bad history. Time after time, war after war, African-Americans
fought and died for the nation's agenda only to see the nation ignore or
reject their issues. Black folks fought in the Revolution and slavery lasted
nearly another century. Black soldiers were promised land after the Battle
of New Orleans during the War of 1812 and never got it.

In the Civil War, African-Americans, then 14 percent of the population,
were 20 percent of the Union casualties. Yet segregation and second-class
opportunities were the rule for almost another century. Black folks fought in
World War I in the hopes of winning full citizenship. They were rewarded
with white race riots. Participation in World War II and Korea further
emboldened African-Americans to protest for desegregation in the military, public
accommodations, school desegregation, and voting rights.

But Americans took so long to become disgusted with the lynchings and
disenfranchisement of the '40s, '50s, and early '60s that the hypocrisy could
not be contained. There was Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1968 lament ''for the
poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and
death and corruption in Vietnam.'' There was Muhammad Ali's ''I ain't got
no quarrel with them Viet Cong'' because, as he said, ''no Viet Cong ever
called me nigger.'' There were the riots.

Thirty-five years later, too many African-Americans are still having their
hopes smashed. The military, which has worked harder at equality than the
private sector, has undoubtedly helped put many African-Americans on the
road to the middle class. But the nation has yet to truly join
African-Americans on the mission to rid the United States of its quiet weapons of mass
destruction: bad schools for the poor and discrimination for striving
African-Americans with the same qualifications as white Americans.

African-Americans understand that there are times when all of us are under
attack. They solidly supported at least the short-term military response
against the terrorists of Sept. 11. But history has also taught
African-Americans to be wary. That wariness could be a warning, should Americans choose
to hear it. A White House that is not committed to opportunity in Illinois
must be questioned about Iraq. An America that remains comfortable with
discrimination in Baltimore must be questioned as to how discriminating it
will be in bombing Baghdad. An America that has not been true to black
patriotism might want to question just how true the White House is to them.

A lot of white Americans may not care for affirmative action, but we all
care about the economy, which Bush is all but handing over to business
interests. The low enthusiasm by African-Americans for a war in Iraq might be
the most patriotic act yet. It ought to be the act that makes us think what
our nation is promising to the rest of the world when there are promises to
keep right here.

?? Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company

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