Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Struggle of Minority Women in the Military

The first colored troops did not receive any pay for eighteen months, and the men had to depend wholly on what they received from the commissary...their wives were obliged to support themselves and children by washing for the officers, and making cakes and pies which they sold to the boys in camp. Finally, in 1863, the government decided to give them half pay, but the men would accept none of this... They preferred rather to give their services to the state, which they did until 1864, when the government granted them full pay, with all back due pay.  
- Mrs. Susie King Taylor, African American Civil War Nurse

The desegregation of the Armed Forces by Executive Order 9981 officially occurred on July 26, 1948, though minorities served in numerous branches of the military prior to that time period. Executive Order 9981 given by President Harry Truman forbade discriminating against military personnel because of race, color, religion, or national origin. According to data in the Defense Department minorities are over represented in enlisting ranks and underrepresented in the officer ranks. Minority women encounter a double whammy being that they face issues in reference to race and gender.

While there is no documentation of minority women serving in the American Revolution there were as many as 181 black nurses who served in convalescent and US government hospitals in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina during the war. Having this knowledge about the military I decided to probe a little deeper to see if the treatment of minority women in the military today compared to the mistreatment of minority women of today in the military. I interviewed three women in two different branches of the military to see whether or not the ill-treatment of minority women had dissipated, remained the same, or gotten worse now compared to the past.

Here are their words:

First Interview (via Facebook)
Age: 22
Race/Ethnicity: Afro-Latina
Branch: Army

1. At what point, if any, did gender and/or race become apparent in the military?
Gender and race become apparent as soon as you sign up because there are certain jobs that you cannot get because of gender.

2. Did you encounter any stereotypical ignorance (i.e., because of the location you grew up in, due to your race, gender, or sexual orientation, etc.)? And if so, what form of ignorance was more apparent? Yes. In basic training in Missouri we were not allowed to go out through certain gates due to being black. Also, being in charge of a my platoon there were some who did not respect me as a woman or as a black woman.

3. What prompted you to join the military, and why the particular branch you're in? I always enjoyed the military because I participated in the Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps) Army JROTC. Plus, I prefer the Army because it is on land rather than water.

4. Did you encounter any racial extremist within your time serving and, if so, how did that affect your experience? Yes, but the encounter did not affect me. Rather, it made me realize tha type of world we live in.

5. Were you affected by the DADT (Dont Ask, Don't Tell) policy and do you believe that the policy applies only to those who are LGBTQ? No, the policy did not affect me and it does not only apply to the LGBTQ community.

6. What is your overall view of the military and overall view of your experience? I love the military. It gives people plenty of opportunities when you're shut out by the rest of the world.


Second Interview (via Phone)
Age: 37
Race/Ethnicity: African-American
Branch: Army

1. At what point, if any, did gender and/or race become apparent in the military? None occurred until I got a little older and advanced in my career. I always encountered those folks who treated me like their daughter or decided to take me under their wings and mentor me. Everyone’s perception of me seemed to be "angry Black woman" or "ghetto hood person" because of where I was from. This is with regards to race. I was passed over for a promotion or opportunities for school because of my race. I really didn’t experience too much discrimination with gender, because as a soldier everyone was expected to perform to standard. I only experienced that at one duty station.

2. Did you encounter any stereotypical ignorance (i.e., because of the location you grew up in, due to your race, gender, or sexual orientation, etc.)? And if so, what form of ignorance was more apparent? The more apparent ignorance was in regard to race and gender. Everyone had their stereotype of the "angry Black woman" which occurred again once I got older. I went in when I was 18 years and that didn’t occur until I was 26 or 27. Or it may have been that I didn’t pay much attention to it when I was younger, now that I think about it. This was dependent upon where the duty station was located. Now if I landed in a unit that was predominately Black I didn’t have that problem. But if it was with a predominately white unit or predominately other race it was a different story.

3. What prompted you to join the military, and why the particular branch you're in? There was a career day at my highschool and one of the recruiters that came was a Black woman and after talking to her and listening to all the perks that came along with the military I knew that was a good way to go to school. She looked amazing in her uniform and I knew that if she could do it I could do it as well. The reason I chose the Army is becauseof that recruiter. I’d done my research and the position I was interested in was available within the Army. I wasn’t really interested in any other branches.

4. Did you encounter any racial extremist within your time serving and, if so, how did that affect your experience? I did not. The military has a no tolerance rule. I’m sure that it exist, but on a low key scale. I never experienced it though.

5. Were you affected by the DADT (Dont Ask, Don't Tell) policy and do you believe that the policy applies only to those who are LGBTQ? When I was coming up through the ranks, DADT had not really come up yet. They were finding out that people were homosexual they would kick their asses out plain and simple. No ifs, ands, orbuts about it. With the repeal and it being eighty-sixed I still feel like there is still some discrimination with regard to that because although we can serve openly, your partner is not entitled to any benefits. If you don’t get benefits then you don’t get to travel under the government's bill, or you don’t get the help to get job perks. So they really don’t give out any benefits.

6. What is your overall view of the military and overall view of your experience? My overall view of the military is that it is a good, stable, and honorable career choice. Of course, it isn’t for everybody. You have to be a special kind of person to want to give up your freedoms and sometimes your way of life to go lay down your life for something. My overall experience has been great. The military opened a lot of doors for me. There have been some good and bad times, but the good outweighs the bad. I’ve met a lot of great people and had a lot of great opportunities. I was able to go to school and I’m the only one in my family who has been able to do something like this. It’s been a great ride and I’m looking forward to retirement. It’s been a good support system for my family. If anything should happen to me I know that they’ll be taken care of. And I look pretty hot in a uniform.


Third Interview (Face-to-Face)
Age: 42
Race/Ethnicity: Native American & African American
Brach: Air Force

1. At what point, if any, did gender and/or race become apparent in the military? Gender became apparent to me the day that I began boot camp.

2. Did you encounter any stereotypical ignorance (i.e., because of the location you grew up in, due to your race, gender, or sexual orientation, etc.)? And if so, what form of ignorance was more apparent? People were always curious as to what my ethnicity was. They’d confuse me for being Spanish or a Latina and could not wrap their minds around and Afro-Native. I’m proud of both aspects of my heritage. Considering also that I have been a lesbian for over twenty years, there was ignorance on many levels.

3. What prompted you to join the military, and why the particular branch you're in? N/A

4. Did you encounter any racial extremist within your time serving and, if so, how did that affect your experience? I encountered a few, but it really depended upon where we were stationed and where we were trained or trained individuals depending upon the rank of a person.

5. Were you affected by the DADT (Dont Ask, Don't Tell) policy and do you believe that the policy applies only to those who are LGBTQ? I’d had a steady girlfriend for over fifteen years. We recently tied the knot, consequences come what may. Even though Obama’s administration was quite instrumental in repealing DADT (Don’t ask don’t tell), there are still loopholes in which discrimination is quite obvious.

6. What is your overall view of the military and overall view of your experience? The military gave me a tough skin, and hardened me in a manner for both good and bad. The experience is not one that I would trade, but it is also one that I wouldn’t repeat given the opportunity.

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