Race colors West's rush to help Kosovo refugees

April 25, 1999|By Paul Delaney

AS WESTERN propaganda machines continue to soften us up for a wider war that would include ground troops in the Balkans, one issue that has been lost but surely will resurface with a vengeance by such an expansion is race.

Already, the issue has been raised with the invocation of two words in the media: Rwanda and Vietnam.

In recent weeks, the apparent hypocrisy of the western nation's eagerness to intervene in a humanitarian crises involving Europeans -- but not black Africans -- has been addressed in newspaper articles and columns.

Many journalists have rightly compared the Kosovo situation to Rwanda. The key question: Why the interest in saving Kosovars from ethnic cleansing when the West stood by as more than 500,000 innocents were slaughtered in East Africa under similar circumstances in 1994?

African blood

Many of the articles have concluded that the reason obviously was race: There was less interest in the West if the blood being spilled was black African.

It is rather sickening to watch politicians, particularly those in Washington and London, citing "moral outrage" about the refugees fleeing Kosovo.

One standard argument is, if genocide is not stopped in one place, it will rear its ugly head elsewhere. Can we conclude, therefore, that we're in the current predicament because genocide was not confronted in Rwanda?

In Rwanda, no Western allies came to the rescue, and there was no talk of escorting people back to their villages under armed protection. And even now, there is no talk of sweeping reconstruction in East Africa as is proposed for Kosovo.

And certainly no one has suggested resettling African refugees in Guantanamo Bay. Imagine the outrage that would have provoked. Remember the flap when Haitians were sent there?

Counting losses

Since African-Americans and other nonwhites make up a huge percentage of ground forces, they most likely would suffer a major share of the losses if a ground war ensues. Shades of Vietnam.

The issue is of grave concern to the young African-Americans I come in contact with on Howard University's campus. A recent article in the Community News, a campus newspaper, quoted a young black man demonstrating at the White House against the bombing campaign: "Blacks have an interest in this. If this led to [ground] war, we are the ones that will be on the front lines with the highest casualties."

But for all Americans, there is another aspect to the racial angle as we approach the millennium engaged in what should be our final war of the 20th century. At some point in the 21st century, whites will be the minority in this country. Hopefully, that will be reflected in the distribution of wealth and power. If so, there are some daunting questions to be addressed.

Will a majority nonwhite nation care as much about Europe and NATO as it does today? Will the new majority look upon the rest of the world of have-nots more favorably than our leaders do now?

What will U.S. foreign policy be regarding the "Third World"? How will our European friends and white Americans take it?

More immediate, however, if NATO begins a ground war in Kosovo and a disproportionate number of the casualties are nonwhite Americans, Western leaders will have some explaining to do.

Paul Delaney is co-director of the Center for the Study of Race and Media at Howard University in Washington.

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