Bush, blacks & Iraq

If blacks are so patriotic, then why don’t most of them support Bush’s war against Iraq?

Did I say Bush’s war? Hmmm.

Historically, African-Americans have proven to be some of the most patriotic Americans. Even when Uncle Sam was gleefully stomping and kicking us into the dirt, we still have bent over backward trying to be good Americans. Think of the black Civil War soldiers depicted in the movie Glory; think of the Buffalo Soldiers, think of the Tuskegee Airmen, just to cite some examples. It was as if we believed our continued efforts would one day earn us at least a granule of recognition from our government and our fellow Americans, that we love this country — and are willing to die for this country — just as much as anybody else. And if a willingness to fight determines who has the right to be called patriotic, then we have spilled more than enough blood to gain entrance to the club — through the front door.

So now here we have a war that our president tells us is essential to keeping us safe and secure. If we don’t erase Saddam Hussein, then the world will descend into chaos and uncertainty as Mr. Axis of Evil continues pumping himself up into an even greater threat. At least that’s what the president says.

So why aren’t blacks getting on board? (For that matter, why is a significant portion of the world community balking? But that’s another column altogether.) Is it that blacks don’t care about being safe and sound as much as white folks do? I doubt that.

I think it’s because most black folks, plain and simple, don’t trust Bush. There are other issues involved, but it boils down to that simple fact — blacks don’t like the guy. And since blacks neither trust nor care much for him, there isn’t much he can say that will convince us that this war will do us — or our country — any good. African-Americans are especially sensitive to this issue since they represent a disproportionately large percentage of the armed forces that Bush just can’t wait to send into battle.

Incidentally, it was this concern that prompted both U.S. Reps. Charles Rangel, D-New York City, and John Conyers, D-Detroit, to team up recently on a bill to bring back the draft. As they saw it, it is easy for wealthy whites to pound their fists and chomp at the bit for war when it isn’t their children who will be getting chopped down on the front lines. An across-the-board draft is about the only way to add some fairness to the situation.

As it stands now, the disproportionately high representation of the poor and minorities in the enlisted ranks is well-documented. Minorities are 35 percent of the military, and black servicemen and women alone make up 20 percent of the total. That percentage far outstrips the percentage of African-Americans in society, where the figure is about 12 percent. If this war kicks into gear, it will be the children of poor, rural whites, and poor black and other nonwhite families who primarily will be facing the bullets.

No doubt, statistics like these influenced the lopsided vote by Congressional Black Caucus members — 32 to 4 — against authorizing the use of force in Iraq last October. And it is clear that their views reflect the feelings of black voters who are by and large opposed to an invasion. According to a Gallup analysis of six polls the polling firm conducted in December and January, whites supported an invasion by 58 percent to 37 percent. By comparison, blacks opposed an invasion by 56 percent to 37 percent, which reflects an almost exact reverse of the opinions expressed by whites.

Conyers, a founder of the Congressional Black Caucus who was present at a recent anti-war rally in Detroit, said this on his Web site about Bush’s war plans:

“Prevention of Iraq’s future rearmament must focus on potential suppliers, as well as maintaining a serious monitoring agency inside Iraq. There can be no absolute guarantees. But accepting the killing of 500,000 children because we don’t have the creativity to craft another way to prevent the possibility of some unknown potential future threat, at some unspecified future time, is simply unacceptable.”

Secretary of State Colin Powell, who has morphed from a dove into a hawk at near light speed, has nevertheless attracted significantly higher poll ratings among all Americans than Bush when it comes to who Americans trust more on the issue of war against Iraq. But regardless of the strength of those polls, and of the generally favorable feeling African-Americans hold toward Powell, black folks don’t even allow Powell to change their minds about the war — probably because they know who’s pulling Powell’s strings. Days after Powell made his case for war to the United Nations Security Council, a Zogby poll found that 62 percent of whites and 60 percent of Hispanics — but only 23 percent of blacks — supported war on Iraq.

Not that any of this matters to Bush. If the man doesn’t care what hundreds of thousands of protesters around the world think, let alone a significant number of European allies and other governments around the globe, I think it’s safe to say he isn’t inclined to give much weight to what black folks are thinking. As he said last week, deciding policy based on the size of the protests is like saying, “Well, I’m going to decide policy based upon a focus group.”

Some might argue it’s listening to your constituents, but, oh, well.


I don’t know how many of you happened to be watching the recent Showtime special “Deacons for the Defense,” but if you didn’t, well, you missed out. Since so-called “reality programming” is the big deal these days, then I’d say “Deacons” delivered some seriously hardcore reality of the type that more folks need to know about.

Unlike so many dramatic specials that are aired during Black History Month each year depicting African-Americans as helpless victims caught in the hurricane of white oppression, “Deacons” unearthed the true story of a secretive group of African-American men who took up arms against the Ku Klux Klan in Bogalusa, La. — and won. Their willingness to defend themselves using violent means prevented the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King from being associated with them, but it
didn’t much matter. They stood their ground in one of the most violent Klan territories in the nation, and they prevailed.

Sometimes you just can’t afford to love thine enemy if you want to live.

Keith A. Owens is a Detroit-area writer and musician. E-mail [email protected]
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