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Why Blacks are under-represented at peace rallies (Read 387 times)
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Why Blacks are under-represented at peace rallies
Mar 22nd, 2003 at 8:42pm
Black peace activism questioned

Why don't larger numbers of African Americans march and rally against Bush's war? Whites are constantly posing the question, most often in tones that indicate sincere puzzlement. Although most white Americans appear to know nothing at all about anyone except themselves, the thinking fraction is aware that Blacks are the most consistent national opposition to U.S. military adventure. For the past four decades, Black elected officials and mass organizations have expressly linked issues of domestic social justice and peaceful international relations. Polling evidence is conclusive over two generations: Anti-war politics is mainstream Black politics. That has never been true of white America, or consistently true for any other American ethnicity.

So, why is it that African American representation in anti-war crowds is less than their proportion of the general population? The answers are as simple - and as complicated - as for any other matter of race relations in America. Anti-war activities are organized by people. They are social activities, connected to networks of people speaking through their own frames of reference, bringing to the activity all of the baggage of their segregated lives. In a racist society, all politics must be evaluated in the context of race relations.

White people are the historical culprits in this matter of American racism. It is, therefore, appropriate that dedicated white people have done some of the most serious, nuts and bolts work in tackling the racial dilemmas that dog progressive organizers. If white supremacy is a (the?) general problem in America (the world?), it will also loom as a (the?) major contradiction in creating mass, multi-racial movements, including movements that purport to be anti-racist.

If the problem could be wished or prayed away, Black people would have wished and prayed themselves free long ago.

In an Open Letter To Activists Concerning Racism In The Anti-War Movement, circulated last month, a multi-ethnic group of New York movement veterans argued that:

Most white activists don't see how "whiteness" privileges them and perpetuates white supremacist social relations in movement work. White activists have a responsibility to struggle against white supremacy, a struggle that includes: 1) Sharing leadership with, and being willing to follow the lead of, people and organizations of color; 2) maintaining an attitude of collectivity and not dominating discussion; 3) challenging racist language and actions (especially within movement spaces), and 4) prioritizing the issues, experiences and struggles of people of color.

Much of value has been accomplished through the Challenging White Supremacy Workshops. We also recommend a February Znet article titled, "Anti-War Questions and Answers."

Some of the most important anti-war efforts - the city council resolutions opposing war - have taken place in cities where whites are a minority. In fact, of the 25 cities with population of over 100,000 that have passed anti-war resolutions, 15 have white minorities. Of these 15, 6 have an African American majority and 6 an African American plurality.

"Nevertheless," authors Michael Albert and Stephen R. Shalom caution, "it's probably still the case that current demonstrations are disproportionately white and middle class. But to a considerable extent this is a function of which sectors of society can most easily take the time and expense to travel to major anti-war events."

The insidious assumption

We should examine the assumptions that may lurk behind and within questions concerning Black participation in anti-war demonstrations. First, there is a general perception among whites and Blacks that white people dominate the anti-war movement. To the extent that this is true, why should it be assumed that African Americans will come when white people call, for any cause? Have white people responded to Black-led movements seeking broad social change in anything approaching whites' proportion of the population? Older whites are sometimes heard to complain about a lack of recognition of the many thousands of whites who took part in the 1963 March on Washington, for example. Yet whites were a fraction of the quarter-million strong crowd, while outnumbering African Americans in the general population eight to one. (Not to mention the resource gap.) Did whites believe that they were making some special contribution to the "Black" cause? Apparently, some did, and still do.

Whites' resources and privilege make it possible for even relatively weak sectors of white opinion to make a great deal of noise. White institutions pay attention to other whites. But minorities among whites cannot presume to set a detailed agenda for Black Americans, who share an extraordinarily coherent group worldview. African Americans cannot be summoned.

The intelligent question that Black America grapples with daily is, Why don't African Americans rally to Black-led causes more often and in greater numbers? This is a question that seems not to concern many "peace" activists, who prefer to ask their own questions, concerning the activities that are the focal points of their own lives.

There is a growing awareness that profound damage has been done to Black America's ability to mobilize itself for demonstrations or direct action. Young people drive activist politics. The overlapping, relentless assaults on urban America over the past three decades have fallen most heavily on Black youth. The cutting edge cultural cohort of the international youth market is, in political terms, a wounded force, far less available and less capable of organized, public confrontation with Power. And Power knows it.

In the most afflicted urban neighborhoods, huge numbers of young males and females are not present, due to incarceration. At any given time, a much larger group is under criminal justice supervision. More still live in fear of becoming too visible to authorities that treat every young Black as a probationer. At the micro level, in a typical circle of four male friends in their older teens, at least one will not risk exposing himself to police in a public demonstration. Consequently, the tight little group becomes useless for a variety of organizational purposes. In an important sense, it is outside of politics.

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