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[casi] !OT The US, race and war

As a side comment:

  "In 1973 23% of the military was from racial minorities;
  in 2000 it was 37%."

and yet I have rarely seen a news report showing
soldiers in Iraq who were black.


The US, race and war
Most African-Americans didn't support the war on Iraq -
with good reason.  But they ended up fighting it

Gary Younge
Monday August 11, 2003
The Guardian

As America's most eloquent minister for war, Tony Blair
has often taken it upon himself to placate criticism of
United States military aggression abroad by pointing to
its social achievements at home.  And there can be few
greater American accomplishments, in his mind, than race.

Quite how he came to this ill-informed conclusion, and why
he would choose to share it, is not entirely clear.  He
rarely mentions race domestically - the last time there
were riots in the north he didn't even venture up thereto
see what had sparked them.  So when he raises it about
America, it exposes both his weakness on the subject in
Britain and his ignorance of its dynamic in America.

In the Labour party conference speech in 2001 where he
made the case for the bombing of Afghanistan, he hailed a
meritocracy that could produce a black foreign secretary.
"I think of a black man, born in poverty, who became chief
of their armed forces and is now secretary of state, Colin
Powell, andI wonder frankly whether such a thing could
have happened here," he said.

Leave aside for the moment that Powell was not born into
poverty; the truthis that as prime minister Blair could
appoint a black person to the post of foreign secretary
any time he wants.  The fact that it took him five yearsto
put Paul Boateng in a far lowlier position in his own
cabinet is down to nobody but himself.

A few weeks ago, addressing Congress to justify the war on
Iraq, he was at it again.  "Tell the world why you are
proud of America," he implored.  "Tellthem when the
Star-Spangled Banner starts Americans get to their feet,
notbecause some state official told them to but because,
whatever race, colour, class or creed they are, being
American means being free."

He might have asked himself how far his policies on asylum
seekers, ID cards and immigration (not to mention the
reckless language and bigoted logic of his home secretary,
David Blunkett) have put back the day when black, Asian
and Muslim Britons might feel similarly comfortable with
their own national identity.

But what is most staggering about his use of race in his
tributes to Uncle Sam is not that the accomplishments he
supports in America are the very ones he is so busy
stifling at home.  It is that the very cause in which he
raises them - war - has the least backing among those
whose experience he usesto marvel at America's greatness:
black people.

It is not difficult to see why.  If America's achievements
in race relationsare exemplary then someone forgot to tell
African-Americans - that sectionof the population most
likely to be unemployed, poor, without health
care,imprisoned, executed and arrested.  And if war is the
best way to remedy these ills, nobody told them that

Even at the height of the popularity of the war against
Iraq in April, a Pew Research Centre poll found only 44%
of African-Americans supported it, the lowest level of any
group surveyed.  Overall, 66% of Americans favoured
military action, with support at 77% among whites and 67%
among Hispanics.

Black Americans obviously shared the shock and loss of
September 11.  But most did not share the righteous
indignation because the notion that they could be the
victims of a mindless act of deadly violence in their own
countrywas not entirely new.  "Living in a state of terror
was new to many white people in America," said writer Maya
Angelou.  "But black people have been living in a state of
terror in this country for more than 400 years."

Indeed, the very man who claims to be fighting the war to
make the world safe for democracy - President George Bush
- came to power because black Americans in Florida were
systematically denied the right to vote.

Such hypocrisy may be news to Blair.  But it is no
revelation for African-Americans.  It is not just this war
that irks them.  They have been more sceptical than whites
about every war during the past century because it has
longbeen a staple truth of American foreign policy that
the US would claim to be fighting for rights abroad that
it refused to extend to black people andothers at home.

Nor is it news to the American government.  After the
second world war, tackling domestic racism was as much a
foreign policy decision as anything else.  A civil rights
committee, appointed by President Harry Truman, reached
the following conclusion:  "We cannot escape the fact that
our civil rights record has been an issue in world
politics...  They have tried to prove our democracy an
empty fraud and our nation a consistent oppressor of
underprivileged people."

It would be almost another 20 years before black Americans
would be assuredof the right to vote.  Tied to a country
by geography and nationality, yet denied full allegiance
to it by politics and history, African-Americans have
developed a habit of looking askance when their leaders
reach for their gun in the name of the greater good.

But while they were the least likely to support these
wars, since Korea they have been the most likely to end up
fighting them.  In fact, the American military is more
reliant on the poor, and therefore non-whites, than ever
before - pushed by poverty and pulled by the promise of
learning a trade.  In 1973 23% of the military was from
racial minorities; in 2000 it was 37%.  The demographic
group most overrepresented in the military is the same one
that polls show have least enthusiasm for the conflict -
black women.

But if black Americans' resistance to US foreign policy is
understandable, is not uncomplicated or unqualified.  If
their opposition to the war has been greater than white
Americans, their support for it has also been greater than
the predominantly white populations of Europe.  Two of the
principle people responsible for the prosecution of the
war - Powell and Condoleezza Rice - are black.

Herein lie the contradictions in what the late black
intellectual WEB Dubois referred to as black America's
"double consciousness".  Bar the native Americans and a
handful of pilgrims, they are the most longstanding racial
group in the country.  There are few who can lay a greater
claim to being American than African-Americans.  Yet there
are few who can point to as much systematic prejudice at
the hands of America.

"It is a peculiar sensation, this double consciousness,"
wrote Du Bois.  "One ever feels his twoness - an American,
a negro; two warring souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled
strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose
dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder."

It is a nuance that Blair clearly does not see and, given
his backward racial policies in Britain, would not
understand even if he did.  For when they stand for the
Star-Spangled Banner, they salute what they believe to be
thenation's promise, not what they know to be its
practice.  And they are the least likely to believe that
declaring war on foreign nations is the best way to fulfil
that promise, because they have first-hand experience of
how selective the ideals can be of those who fight them.

Guardian Unlimited  Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003

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