AP report: Deep-rooted racism and discrimination permeate the US military
For Stephanie Davis, who grew up with little, the military was a path to the American dream, a kingdom where everyone would receive equal treatment.
She joined the Air Force in 1988 and has progressed steadily over the decades, becoming an Air Surgeon, Commander of Flight Medicine at Fairchild Air Force Base, and eventually Lieutenant Colonel.
But many of her fellow duty, Davis says, viewed her only as a black woman. Or for the fellow white residents who gave her the call sign of ABW – it was a joke, they insisted – an “angry black woman,” a classic racist trope.
White subordinates often refused to greet her and she was attacked with racist slurs, she said.
“For blacks and minorities, when we initially experience racism or discrimination in the military, we feel blind,” Davis said. “We are taught to believe that this is the one place where everyone has a level playing field and that we can reach the top with merit-based work.”
In interviews with the Associated Press, current and former enlisted and officers from nearly every branch of the military described a deeply rooted culture of racism and discrimination that stubbornly persists, despite repeated efforts to eradicate it.
The AP found that the military justice system does not have an explicit category for hate crimes, making it difficult to quantify bias-motivated crimes.
The Defense Department also has no way of tracking the number of soldiers ousted for extremist views, despite repeated promises to root them out. More than 20 people linked to the Jan.6 siege of the U.S. Capitol were found to have military ties.
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The PA also found that the Uniform Code of Military Justice did not adequately deal with discriminatory incidents and that people of basic color generally faced martial tribunals made up of all-white military personnel, which some experts say can lead to more severe acts. the results.
And racial discrimination does not only exist within the military base. Every year, civilians working in the financial, technical and support sectors of the army, air force and navy file hundreds of complaints of racial and skin color discrimination, according to one. AP analysis of US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission data.
In February, Lloyd J. Austin III – a former Army general who is now Secretary of Defense, the first black man to serve in the post – ordered commanders and supervisors to take an operational break for a day to discuss extremism in the ranks with their service members.
The Southern Poverty Law Center sent Austin a letter shortly after his order, congratulating him on his decisive action, but stressing that systemic change at all military levels is urgent.
“Those who are brainwashed into white supremacist ideology pose a significant threat to national security and the security of our communities,” wrote SPLC President Margaret Huang.
In a statement to the PA, the Defense Department said extremism is not “widespread” in the armed forces, but acknowledged that “efforts to eradicate extremist views at the grassroots have historically been reactive. rather than proactive until recently. ” Pentagon spokesman Major César Santiago highlighted Austin’s decision to withdraw in February which underscored the oath of office taken by military personnel, including a “pledge to protect our nation from foreign enemies and national ”.
Santiago added that “we know that far too many service members report being discriminated against.” He noted that the Department of Defense had launched multiple efforts over the past year, including updating its anti-harassment policy, evaluating its implicit bias training and developing data-driven strategies to guide efforts to attract and retain diverse members and also to identify unsanitary work. environments.
In the middle of last summer, unrest sparked by police killings of black Americans across the country Army General Mark A. Milley, who is also chairman of the Department of Defense for heads of state Joint Chiefs of Staff told congressional leaders that the military could not afford racism or discrimination.
“We who wear the fabric of our nation understand that cohesion is a force multiplier,” Milley said. “Division leads to defeat.”
Austin pledged to rid the ranks of “racists and extremists” during his confirmation hearing before Congress, which followed the insurgency on Capitol Hill.
“The job of the Department of Defense is to protect America from our enemies,” he said. “But we can’t do that if some of these enemies are in our own ranks.”
In late 2020, the Department of Defense released a report aimed at identifying ways to improve racial and ethnic diversity in the U.S. military. Among the results: The enlisted ranks of the Active and Reserve Army were “slightly more racially and ethnically diverse than its US civilian counterparts.” But not the officer corps.
The distribution of all serving officers: 73% white; 8% each black and Hispanic; 6% Asian; 4% multiracial; and less than 1% of Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, American or Alaskan origin. And the diversity gap widened as the highest ranking individuals rose through the ranks.
Several black officers interviewed by the PA said culture must give way if they are to ever flourish.
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Thomas Hobbs, an infantry colonel who retired after 27 years of service in the Marine Corps in 2018, was among those who spoke of the pressures of trying to blend in with an overwhelmingly “white male culture.” “.
Hobbs said the Marines did better than other branches of the service at recruiting black candidates into the officer corps, but noted that “many of them do not stay in the military after their 10th year.”
“Why don’t they stay? Because they’re exhausted from having to act a certain way all the time and they can never be themselves, ”Hobbs said.
Other members of the color service detailed incidents in which they said they were discouraged by superiors from openly embracing their cultures. Some said they were told to avoid speaking languages other than English so as not to offend their mostly white colleagues.
And some black women detailed the challenges they’ve faced navigating a culture that often calls them “aggressive or picky” and their natural hair as sloppy or unprofessional.
Now, a series of sweeping changes to the National Defense Authorization Act – which primarily funds and sets policies governing the Department of Defense and military services – could present a unique opportunity to turn the tide.
A bill passed earlier this year ordered the Secretary of Defense to devise a plan to remove all names, symbols and monuments that honor Confederacy, including renaming military bases such as Fort Benning and Fort Hood , which honor Confederate leaders.
“Several years ago they discovered a white supremacist cell in Fort Bragg,” US House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn recalled in an interview with the PA. “Were they there because of the attitudes they brought with them or were they celebrating the fact that Fort Bragg is named after a segregationist?”
The bill also establishes tracking mechanisms and reporting requirements for the activity of supremacist, extremist and criminal gangs, and creates an inspector general to oversee diversity and inclusion efforts.
When Stephanie Davis was medically retired from the Air Force in 2019 after more than two decades of service, she felt overwhelmed by overt racism and
noted how insidious this can be for the ranks – the military trust their comrades with their lives, and a lack of cohesion in a unit can be deadly.
“It creates a harmful and dangerous working environment,” she said. “And many of us suffer in silence because we feel that there is nothing we can do.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: As Lance Corporal in the Navy, James LaPorta previously served under the command of Col. Thomas Hobbs, but did not work directly for him.