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African Americans oppose war, but rarely protest
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Out of nearly 200 protesters outside Alliant Techsystems in Edina Matlock is the only African American. (MPR Photo/Brandt Williams)
Recent opinion polls suggest more African Americans are opposed to the war in Iraq than white Americans. Even so fewer African Americans than whites have come out to protest the war. Some say black minnesotans aren't coming out to protest because they have more pressing matters at hand. However, others say African Americans are actually more supportive of the war than the polls show and don't want to protest because it would be disrespectful to the troops.

Minneapolis, Minn. — The civil rights movement anthem, "We Shall Overcome" is heard in demonstrations for a wide range of causes. One day recently, a group of nearly 200 anti-war protesters sing the song outside the Edina offices of weapons maker Alliant Techsystems.

But unlike civil rights demonstrations, few African Americans have attended anti-war protests in the Twin Cities. Black faces are also hard to find in coverage of larger demonstrations in other cities around the country. At the Alliant Techsystems protest, Corey Matlock is the only African American.

"I've been to a few demonstrations where the African population has been growing more and more. But trying to come out here to Edina when most people don't have cars - I'm one of the fortunate ones out here to represent," Matlock said.

"I don't necessarily agree with [President] Bush. And because I'm supporting the troops, does not mean I'm supporting Bush."
- Toni Reams

Matlock works at a YWCA in Minneapolis where she talks daily with African Americans who do not share her concern about the war.

"They have to survive, that's what they're thinking. Yeah, there's another war going on, but they don't have enough food to feed their families," Matlock says. "I understand the complacency to a degree, but in order to make change you have to have your voice heard and be a part of the movement." Polls conducted by the PEW Research Center for People and the Press, the Atlanta Constitution and The Gallup Organization show that anywhere from half to three-quarters of African Americans oppose the war. For example, the Gallup poll shows that nearly 7 in 10 African Americans oppose the war in Iraq, while nearly 8 in 10 white Americans support it. Columbia University History and Political Science Professor Manning Marable says he's not surprised by the disparities.

"There are two parallel racial universes in the United States where blacks and whites live in the same country, we speak the same language and we are theoretically governed by the same sets of laws. But we perceive policital reality in fundamentally different ways," Marable said.

Marable says much of black opposition to the war grows from a distrust of the Bush Administration and it's stance on civil rights issues like affirmative action. When it comes to taking to the streets in protest against the war, Marable suggests that the absence of large numbers of African Americans, and other people of color, the issue may not be so much about race.

"They don't have the kind of luxury of leisure and critical reflection about foreign policy, foreign affairs, when they're trying to find and maintain a job," Marable says. "But that's not a black thing, that's a working class thing."

A demographic profile of the United States military shows that working class people are more likely to join the service and see combat in Iraq. African Americans, while nearly 13 percent of the nation's population, constitute 22 percent of enlisted personnel, according to Pentagon figures. The Pentagon also reports that more than 35 percent of women who enlist in the armed forces are black.

"I have a cousin over there," says Toni Reams. "And I'm fearful. I'm fearful for her life."

Reams is a poet and writer who lives in St. Paul. She says she has mixed feelings about the war. She finds it ironic that so African Americans join the military and risk their lives for a country that still doesn't quite accept them as people. But Reams says she has to respect her cousin's decision to join the military and support her even though she doesn't agree with the decision to go to war.

"I'm going to support my troops and I'm going to support those that are over there, 'cause it's not their war either, it's their job," Reams said. "They said they have to defend America - OK, let's defend America and I'm going to support them on that. I don't necessarily agree with [President] Bush. And because I'm supporting the troops, does not mean I'm supporting Bush."

Not every body believes the polls accurately portray African Americans' opinions on the war. Lucky Rosenbloom is a conservative activist who lives in St. Paul. He served in the Army for six years and supports the war. Rosenbloom says pollsters would get different numbers if they talked to the thousands of African Americans in the military and their families.

"They're going to tell you that, just like me, they are happy and they are willing to protect our country and our democracy, despite how imperfect we are," Rosenbloom said.

Local chapters of the NAACP and Urban League have not taken official stances on the war. And many Twin Cities black civil rights organizations have remained relatively quiet on the issue. Instead, groups like the Coalition of Black churches and the African American Leadership Summit are focusing on issues closer to home.

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