Sunday, May 27, 2007


It's an ugly paradox.

In a racist culture that brutalizes and marginalizes them, people of color have died in white men's wars throughout history because that was the only way to finance a piece of the American Dream. Sure, it's inequitable and dangerous, but I know too many brothers and sisters that were able to get good jobs and buy houses only because they enlisted. My father was able to open his barber shop because he earned a degree during his time spent in the Navy in World War II. The military has always been the biggest employer for minorities.

Of course, the nasty contradictions staring African-American soldiers in the face were as clear as a "White Only" sign. It was a bitter joke to fight and die for "freedom" overseas when you couldn't even shit in the same place as a white man. Every black man during the turbulent years of the 60s knew what Cassius Clay aka Muhammad Ali meant when he defiantly said, "No Viet Cong ever called me nigger." The struggle of people of color wasn't just confined to the United States. It was global.

So what happens when the black pawns refuse to play this game of imperialistic chess anymore?

In a fascinating and provocative essay, Boston Globe columnist Derrick Z. Jackson explains how and why enlistments of African-Americans are at their lowest numbers since the all-volunteer military was created in 1973. "This is not a black people's war," an African-American veteran of the Iraq war said. "This is not a poor people's war. This is an oilman's war."

Gregory Black is a retired Navy diver who created the website Black Military Black says that quote is representative of how African-American veterans feel about the Iraq invasion and occupation.

"African-Americans detest this war," Black said yesterday in a phone interview. "Everybody kind of knows the truth behind this war. It's a cash cow for the military defense industry, when you look at the money these contractors are making. African-Americans saw this at the beginning of the war and now the rest of the country has figured it out. It's not benefiting us in the least."

Asked about the reference to an "oilman's war," Black said, "It's basically about oil, basically about money. It's an economic war." He said veterans are saying they are tired and burned out. "Guys are saying we're halfway around the world fighting people of color under the guise of democracy and we can't see how it's benefited anyone," Black said. "It's hard to fight halfway around the world for people's freedom when you're not sure you have it at home."

People of color wearing khakis and carrying guns are the hired help, that's all. To the aristocracy, the soldiers are no different than the faceless non-entities who wash the cars, mow the lawn, and clean up the stinking mess in the kid's diapers. Yeah, I hear all sort of noise about "supporting the troops", but you and I know that's code for "Hell, no, I ain't going."

Except African-Americans have translated the code, too. "In 2000," Jackson reported, "23.5 percent of Army recruits were African-American. By 2005, the percentage dropped to 13.9 percent. National Public Radio this week quoted a Pentagon statistic that said that African-American propensity to join the military had dropped to 9 percent."

Hell, no, I ain't going.

Black said that he still believes "without a shadow of a doubt" that the military still provides one of the best opportunities for African-Americans to advance in a nation where civilian opportunities remain checkered. But he said the military may underestimate how young people are absorbing the horrific images in Iraq's chaos. Pentagon officials largely attribute the drop in African-American interest in the armed forces to "influencers," parents, coaches, ministers, and school counselors who urge youth not to enlist.

"I think some of that is true," Black said. "But I taught ROTC in high school, and the kids themselves are a lot smarter about this stuff. They see the news and they can't justify going into a fight for something they have no faith in."

I remember seeing a poster that read: "What If They Gave A War And Nobody Came?" Still, it's a good thing for the military that there's enough poor whites in this country to make up the difference, huh?


Herbinator said...

Good post. Thanks.

janinsanfran said...

Great post. We're both Derrick Jackson fans!

I put this blog on my blog roll after finding this and now I see you've visited mine. That's how it is supposed to work, right? :-)