According to a recent Gallup Poll, 78 percent of white Americans supported invading Iraq, but only 29 percent of blacks. One reason for such a great disparity might be that while blacks represent 12 percent of the population, they make up at least 25 percent of the Army. Those whom the war touches most deeply–particularly the relatives of servicemen–tend to be deeply uneasy about this war. (It would be interesting to break down the antiwar sentiment among whites: a good portion will no doubt be “the usual liberals,” but I suspect that a surprising number of them will be Gulf War and Vietnam vets, as well as family of servicemen and -women.)
Another reason for the disparity is probably economics. With an unemployment rate double that of whites–a little more than 10 percent–African-Americans are first to feel our massive, war-inspired budget cuts. There is concern, too, that almost 5 percent of all black men are in prison or jail, a sad overrepresentation among the nation’s inmates, whose overall population recently rose to surpass 2 million. While some think that this rate of incarceration–the highest in the world by far–is a good thing, most blacks see it as the product of failures in the infrastructure serving minorities, particularly public schools, which have been resegregating over the past decade at an alarming rate.
In addition, many black churches and social organizations are very mindful of Martin Luther King’s concern in his much-cited “Beyond Vietnam” speech: that we were “taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them 8,000 miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem. So we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools.”
Although it is useless now to wish us back to the days of global diplomacy, perhaps it is not too late, in the spirit of earnest–even desperate–patriotism, to offer a few suggestions, based on lessons learned and analogies floating around the black community, about how we might handle the extended occupation to which our leaders seem committed now that Baghdad has reportedly fallen.
First, one should never enter a fight announcing that it will be a “cakewalk.” A cakewalk was a dance contest popularized during the days of black minstrelsy, for which the prize was, as implied, a fluffy confection. Debussy, as our well-educated senior advisers ought to know, wrote a funny little piece of musical condescension to this effect, Golliwog’s Cakewalk. (A golliwog, for the uninformed, is a charmingly old-fashioned word for “nigger.”) Such are the amusements of colonialism. But in the so-called postcolonial era, such references do tend to rankle.
Second, one might think twice about some of the clichéd paradigms that have been used to drive our mighty military momentum, like, “You can’t stand around waiting to be mugged.” This is the Bernhard Goetz doctrine, the cowboy rationale, as well as the hip-hop anthem, shoot first, ask questions later. It is a scared gangfighter’s way of thinking, and it insures a never-ending cycle of trauma, in which illusions of danger are treated on a par with reality, in which waves of endless violence engulf all sane limits.