Deep-Rooted Racism, Discrimination Permeate US Military

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tags: racism, military history, segregation

For Stephanie Davis, who grew up with little, the military was a path to the American dream, a realm where everyone would receive equal treatment. She joined the service in 1988 after finishing high school in Thomasville, Georgia, a small town said to be named for a soldier who fought in the War of 1812.

Over the course of decades, she steadily advanced, becoming a flight surgeon, commander of flight medicine at Fairchild Air Force Base and, eventually, a lieutenant colonel.

But many of her service colleagues, Davis says, saw her only as a Black woman. Or for the white resident colleagues 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 salute her or seemed uncomfortable taking orders from her, she says. Some patients refused to call her by her proper rank or even acknowledge her. She was attacked with racial slurs. And during her residency, she was the sole Black resident in a program with no Black faculty, staff or ancillary personnel.

“For Blacks and minorities, when we initially experience racism or discrimination in the military, we feel blindsided,” Davis said. “We’re taught to believe that it’s the one place where everybody has a level playing field and that we can make it to the top with work that’s based on merit.”

In interviews with The Associated Press, current and former enlistees and officers in nearly every branch of the armed services described a deep-rooted culture of racism and discrimination that stubbornly festers, despite repeated efforts to eradicate it.

The AP found that the military’s judicial system has no explicit category for hate crimes, making it difficult to quantify crimes motivated by prejudice.

The Defense Department also has no way to track the number of troops ousted for extremist views, despite its repeated pledges 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.


Racism in the ranks is not merely a modern stain. More than a half-century ago in 1971, Frank W. Render, a Black man who was assistant secretary of defense, resigned over what he viewed as unequal treatment of people of color.

That same year, the Defense Department created what is now known as the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute – the Pentagon’s premier agency for education and training programs covering diversity and inclusion within the U.S. military.

One of its tools is an anonymous, voluntary “organizational climate” survey that offers a snapshot of a unit’s institutional effectiveness and provides commanders with insight into diversity and inclusion issues within their ranks and how they are addressed.

“Racist, sexual and bigoted jokes are a daily occurrence in my ‘work place,’” a Marine at California’s Camp Pendleton wrote in one December 2017 survey. “Very little has really ever been done to prevent it.” Another Marine said slurs were commonly uttered by officers and enlisted colleagues with no repercussions.

But not everyone is comfortable filling out the surveys or with being honest. Women assigned to Navy SEAL units, for example, fear they can be identified since the surveys break down demographics by gender, rank and race and not many women are assigned to special operation units.

Congress and the Defense Department have mandated that the surveys be conducted annually or whenever a unit changes commanders, but response rates vary widely across units, the surveys do not fall under the Federal Records Act and they are destroyed after three years.

Read entire article at Associated Press

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