“On Thursdays, my classroom looks like a training ground for war,” says Ben, a high school Spanish teacher. Thursdays are the day students of this predominantly black and Latino Boston high school come dressed in their ROTC uniforms for weekly trainings, a program designed to funnel young people into the military.
While people of color make up just a quarter of the U.S. population, they are nearly 40% of the military ranks. As depicted in a gripping scene of Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 911, the military consciously preys upon neighborhoods mired in poverty and unemployment.
A staggering 44% of black men between the ages of 20-24 were unemployed in 2003 (www.nupr.neu.edu/7-04/unemployment.shtml). The poverty and lack of prospects for black youth explains why they constitute 22% of the armed forces and only 12% of the population.
The situation in Puerto Rico further demonstrates the nature of the “poverty draft.” The island’s unemployment rate, including “discouraged workers,” is well over 50% (Puerto Rico Herald, 2/24/00), and despite its small population, it gives more people per capita to the U.S. military than any of the 50 states.
Not only does the military target people of color in a racist manner, but the very way in which the military functions is racist to the core. Young people of color are expected to do the military’s dirty work, as they are relegated to the lower-skill and higher-risk jobs. They face increased risk of death and injury as compared to their white counterparts. Latinos make up 10% of active military personnel, yet account for over 20% of U.S. casualties in Iraq – close to 200 deaths! (IMDiversity.com)
Many female soldiers are raped by their fellow soldiers and then silenced by violent threats that often take a racial tone. African American lieutenant Renee Stone reported that her major raped her and threatened that he would call his “Klan buddies” if she came forward. Despite his warnings, she came forward to tell of the abuse. She was then subjected to a mental evaluation and transferred to another base despite the major failing a lie detector test (www.objector.org/articles/racism.html).
Soldiers of color also face unequal punishment, offensive and inflammatory language, and undesirable job assignments. For many, they are the last to be accepted into the military academies and the first to be discharged. There are regulations against foreign accents and “inappropriate hairstyles” such as Afros and cornrows.
It’s time we say enough is enough! Why should people of color be targeted to fight a racist war for the racist U.S. government? Rather than fighting to oppress poor people of color in Iraq and around the world, we must get organized to resist the racist war machine and fight for justice here at home!