I am the daughter of a soldier. A military brat… a patriot! My father retired after serving for 28 years in the US Army, one of several distinguished branches of the US armed services.
My family, as well as many other of my friends’ families while growing up, benefited from that life style. Most families I knew were two parent, married with the 2.5 children and were homeowners. I grew up in a military town, Ft Campbell, KY is to Clarksville, TN (my childhood home) as Ft Benning, GA is to Columbus, GA (my present home), one of many parallels drawn from past life chapters; exposed to a diverse group of people from all over the country, many of whom had traveled all over the world.
For black families, the military offered a way out of the generational poverty that existed especially in the south. Enlistment in the armed services was seen as a viable career choice with an opportunity for advancement by promotion of enlisted personnel noncommissioned officers (NCO), from entry level upward along a hierarchical ranking system based on performance, training, education, experience, service time (tenure), physical fitness, condition and assertiveness by demonstration of ambition, showing the desire to reach a certain rank, compete to receive specific orders and/or volunteer for tours of duty, efficient and dependable completion of deployment missions whether during wartime or peace to protect and defend our nation, our democracy and the nations and democracies of our allies, stemming the spread of tyranny and autocracy, many making the ultimate sacrifice in the name of homeland security and world peace. Most performing the service without expectation of praise or self righteousness but out of honor, pride and a sense of duty.
Coming from this vantage point and looking through my lens it makes it difficult to call America, the country “racist” because that would personify an entity, and the branches of military, which makes up the Department of Defense, represents the face of America, which did not appear to treat it’s people differently based on color that I could see during my lifetime, although the military does have it’s racially prejudiced and segregated past; It is the people in America who created the institutions and built it’s foundation off of systems of racism. I try to separate the nation as an inanimate entity, from the people of the nation whose living breathing bodies exhibit behaviors and ideals that are fluid and can change, kind of like in pediatrics when we tell adults not to call a child “bad” but to say that “they do bad things.”
I’m speaking from my personal experience during modern times in a post-segregated military. My Father enlisted in 1950, 2 years after the military was integrated by President Harry Truman byway of executive order in 1948. There were black commissioned officers but at a premium, because it required a college degree, whereas an enlisted NCO had as a minimum requirement a Highschool diploma or general education diploma (GED), the latter of which (NCO) was more attainable. The benefits were that the military allowed those of us affiliated to have a nice life, sheltered and detached from what was going on in the civilian society.
It was not until I left my utopian military society and ventured off into the “real” world that it hit me how much disparity existed between the races, especially after I attended medical school and entered into my pediatric residency program at USF in Tampa. Culture shock! It was there that I saw in my clinic the poverty, generational dependency on government assistance and the economic depravity that resulted in a class of people, my people, who had given up on themselves, the result of centuries of such severe oppression that they suffered from internalized oppression as a community, believing they “are less than” or “not deserving of more than” and “it wouldn’t make a difference to try, just to fail anyway” mentally, a sense of hopelessness.
I wondered how my life might have been different if I didn’t have a kind of privilege relative to theirs, made possible by my father’s decision to join the army a decade before my birth. This is when I knew that my calling was to help those disparaged and underserved. I wanted to give back and help my people who have been forgotten and left behind find self empowerment. I wanted to make a difference. Unfortunately this ‘state of being’ exists in nearly every city of every state in the USA, but the disparity especially exists in the south where the majority of the US black population lives, having carved out a life after slavery as ‘freedmen’ in the communities near or around where they experienced forced servitude for nearly 250 years.
It’s been 165 years since slavery ended but our percent poverty level is still, not only out of proportion to that of the majority population, but also out of proportion to other minorities, with “the American dream” benefiting even those who have immigrated to this country decades after the ratification of the 14th Amendment in 1868 passed to naturalize our descendants, the black American former slaves, meant recognize them as citizens. In comparison, other minority racial groups have benefited from that ‘if born in the USA, you are a citizen’ and the subsequent Immigration Act of 1965, allowed others who were non-European to emigrate to the US without the extreme discriminatory restrictions enacted in the 1917 immigration laws favoring Eastern Europeans with near exclusivity, giving way to the 1924 Immigration Act which totally excluded Asians (Middle as well as Far Easterners were included in the excluded).…
There are those who have taken advantage of the opportunities fraught with the blood sweat and tears from the Civil Rights Movement that we marched and died for and they have moved further up the socioeconomic ladder as first generation Americans than black people whose descendants go back 8+/- generations to 1870 (first US census that included all black people by demographics), before then most (88%) of our ancestors were lost in the 250 year pool of slavery. The reasons black descendants of American slaves have been left behind are complex and multifaceted, it is structural and systemic (another post) but not due to laziness or the lack of a desire to work and progress, we are some of the hardest working people I know! We just need to work smarter not harder…