JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. –
As a double minority in the Air Force, who has dealt with my fair share of discrimination, it is important that I speak up at a time when the Black Lives Matter movement has the world’s attention. What is an awakening for some, is a reality the black community is accustomed to in daily life. Racial injustices are omnipresent. We watched Ahmaud Arbery being hunted down and murdered. Following his death, the world watched the modern-day lynching of George Floyd as one officer kneeled so cavalierly on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds while two other officers kneeled on his body and an additional officer stood guard. Can you imagine the amount of anger caused by these events?
Subsequent to the release of the Floyd video, the Air Force Times reported racial disparities in the Air Force’s military justice system. Just imagine the pain and rage the black community is currently feeling. Now, take a second to realize the black Airmen you work beside are part of that community and they are not okay. I know they are not okay because I’ve been talking with them. Just because you wear the uniform, it doesn’t negate your skin color, your culture, or your history. I, personally, am inundated with a multitude of emotions. I fear that the next tragic incident could involve my husband or one of my sons.
Growing up, my parents were very protective. I remember my brothers not being allowed to play with toy guns. When I was a teenager, I recall my mother calling me continuously to know my location. Fast forward to today. What I used to find annoying, I understand now that I am a mother. I do not allow my children to play with toy guns out of fear that they will be the next Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old black boy who was murdered by a cop while playing with a toy gun at a park. I can’t sleep unless I know my children and husband are safe at home. Although we have progressed as a country, we obviously haven’t come that far if my parents’ fears for their children are now my own.
Racism is an uncomfortable topic to discuss but a necessary conversation. Our Airmen are having the conversations; their leadership just may not be a part of the discussion. How can we expect our Airmen to come to work, business as usual, with the world around us burning with anger? Fifty states and 18 countries are protesting to make America understand in 2020 that black lives have equal value.
We matter, we have purpose, we serve, we protect and still, more than 50 years since the Civil Rights Movement, we are pleading for equality. I feel this certainly is affecting our Airmen. Black Airmen are battling discrimination on and off-base. They have sworn an oath to protect a country that is not protecting them. A black Airman who leaves base and takes off the uniform is seen as just another black face. Knowing there are Airmen going to work and being expected to act as if everything is okay is disheartening.
Now is an opportune time for leaders to do that job: lead. Facilitate an open forum to learn how your Airmen really feel. As leaders we have a duty to fully support our Airmen. How can you fully support and assist in creating change if you shy away from the topic, turn a blind eye to situations, and/or are unaccepting of the fact that racism still exists?
I commend and appreciate my commander for caring enough to open the dialogue. There are Airmen who are harboring stories filled with pain and anger due to race-based discriminatory behaviors. I know this to be true because I was one of those Airmen. While deployed, I sat next to an officer who was explaining to his Airmen how he is opposed to black people moving into his community and we are only good for playing basketball. I did everything I was trained to do. I addressed the officer and told him his comments were inappropriate, and then I informed my leadership and reported the incident to Equal Opportunity.
My leadership did everything but what they were trained to do. They turned their backs on me and told me I was bringing negative attention to the squadron. My leadership’s actions violated our Air Force values. Although this was a traumatic experience for me, I remained optimistic. One bad Airman doesn’t erase the many great leaders I’ve worked for and with.
I am still optimistic about the future of our country and the Air Force. Having our Air Force leaders admitting there are problems within our branch, working towards the justice system reform, and diversifying the leadership tiers is a great start. We are moving in the right direction. All within the 21st century we have examples: the first black president, a black Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, a black female Thunderbird officer, and most recently, we are celebrating the appointing of the first black Chief of Staff of the Air Force and the first woman CMSAF. These are amazing accomplishments and are long overdue. I look forward to seeing the first woman and other firsts from different ethnic groups. Seeing the diversity within the protests most certainly makes me hopeful for the future. Historically, the fight has seemed like black versus white but has now become everybody versus racism. And if anything, I have my money on “everybody.”