War and the Color Line

A month before U.S.-led forces attacked Iraq, an opinion poll by the Pew Research Center found that black Americans opposed the war by roughly a 2-1 margin versus whites. Race-ing the Iraqi war, indeed.

Consider this. Since September 2002, the American public had been subjected to what author Noam Chomsky has termed U.S. “government-media propaganda” concerning the twofold Iraqi threat.

First, Saddam Hussein, Iraq’s political leader, was hiding weapons of mass destruction that threatened the U.S.. Second, Iraqis were involved in the horrific terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Yet one group of the American people stood their ground against this war hysteria, even after the U.S. invaded Iraq. A New York Times/CBS News opinion poll in the paper noted that black Americans were more than twice as likely as their white counterparts to oppose the war (March 27).

Then on March 30, an ABC World News Tonight ran a segment featuring an ABC News/Washington Post opinion poll that found black Americans’ support for the war against Iraq was 35 percent on January 20 and March 23. For all Americans, support for the Iraq war was 57 percent on January 20 and 72 percent on March 23.

This trend of anti-war sentiment in the black community is striking. How to explain it?

Can we credit the peace movement for blacks’ opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq? This is no doubt a factor, probably a small one, given that the peace movement doesn’t yet reflect America’s racial diversity, though that is changing.

The INTERNATIONAL ANSWER coalition (Act Now To Stop War And End Racism) is proof of that. In my hometown, African/Black United Front for Peace and Social Justice is a new group working with Sacramento/Yolo Peace Action to mobilize and organize against black peace protesters.

What are the factors that have made black people, in general, so resistant to war propaganda? In my view, it is their experience in America as they have gone and now go about daily life.

Historically, black people in America have been shaped by white violence. That violence and resistance to it have become a part of their culture and of American culture generally.

The effects of black people striving to be free from oppression here are widespread. Consider the peaceful protests of some Americans whose ancestors weren’t enslaved yet who sing anti-slavery songs during anti-war rallies.

It’s metaphorical, and more. In 2003, the black culture of resistance from the past provides a bedrock of morality to others who are standing up and speaking out against the war hawks in Washington.

Of course many black Americans no doubt see the absurdity of the White House’s claim that it can liberate Iraqis. After all, there are millions of black people in the U.S. who would like to be liberated from daily oppression.

Opinion polls have reflected this reality. Racist oppression is more American than apple pie, a trend that is alive and well at home and abroad.

Take the 2003 version of the “white man’s burden” in Iraq. Its roots in U.S. history run deep.

WMB was the official excuse for the American government to begin to violently police the world by invading the Philippines. Supposedly, the brown-skinned people there needed to be civilized, according to President McKinley.

But many black people in the U.S. were militantly opposed to that imperial war. They knew a thing or two about police violence in America.

How much have things changed in over a century of U.S. history? Today, violent police remain a credible threat to many black Americans.

Iraqi leader Hussein and the people of Iraq weren’t/aren’t. Nor are they threatening to the U.S. public in all its diversity.

In a bitter twist of fate, the American military is also now waging the “war on terror” in the Philippines against a group supposedly linked to the terrorists involved in the Sept. 11 attacks.

Some black people responding to opinion polls on the Iraqi war undoubtedly “get” what this military action will mean for them on a daily basis. As the first fired and last hired, they will likely take some of the hardest domestic hits from the president’s request for about $80 billion of U.S. taxpayers’ dollars to pay for the invasion/occupation of Iraq through September 30 only.

Congress won’t likely oppose this war spending. And it will cause many Americans to feel real pain in 2003.

The war spending and tax cuts for the wealthy requested by Bush and likely to be approved by Congress will be used an excuse to cut non-military spending. Low-income people, disproportionately black and brown, will get beaten up by these budget and tax cuts.

Federal education, health and welfare spending will be slashed. Millionaires will get fat tax cuts.

There can, of course, be no U.S.-led building of a free society in Iraq when freedom remains a “dream deferred” for millions of black (and Asian, Latino, Native American and white) people here. The advanced political consciousness of black people polled before and after the U.S. attack on Iraq speaks to this truth.

SETH SANDRONSKY is co-editor of Because People Matter. He can be reached at: ssandron@hotmail.com


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Seth Sandronsky is a Sacramento journalist and member of the freelancers unit of the Pacific Media Workers Guild. Emailsethsandronsky@gmail.com

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