Racism, Sexism and Those Who Serve

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By Diana D. Danis

Lead Administrator, Service: Women Who Serve

This is a big suitcase, and we will be unpacking it for a while. A range of opinions reveal themselves every time these issues are broached, and then everyone scatters because it is damned uncomfortable.

“We are all the same.” “We trust each other with our lives.” “We all bleed green.”

Knowing what equality is supposed to be and actually pulling it off are really different things.

For women and people of color in the military and the VA, there are large bodies of data, studies, surveys, and anecdotes about what is espoused and what is real.

Let’s knock out some basics: women and people of color serve in every military field. They can get promoted through all the ranks of enlisted and officer. Looking pretty good so far, and it took right up to this century and decade to make these inroads. That is basic access, not equality.

Being allowed to do something and actually being able to attain it are very different.

Starting a race and running it without ropes and chains determines where you finish. Social constraints change dynamics of reaching goals, whether it is intentional or built so deeply into the culture as to be as quicksand – looks ok, but just might kill you.

Power and control are the key objects in the way of culture change. Without unfettered power and control, we move toward a level playing field and eliminate hidden dangers like bias, bigotry, racism, sexism, homophobia, and religious intolerance – the quicksands of true equality.

People are angry and holding onto some deeply held beliefs fueled by wrong information, no information or just a strong feeling.

The most divisive at this moment: names of places, depictions of long dead people, offensive words carved into stone or raised in metal. How much is history and how much is an ongoing physically embodied aggression toward populations never given a say in their creation, but daily offended by their presence?

If we tear down the statues, blast the granite and melt the plaques, are we left with a generic, bland society?

What if we unveil a new canvas? One that breathes life into the long-ignored contributions and travails of Native Americans/Indigenous, Hispanic, African-Americans/Black, LGBTQ, disabled and women.

What if we change the names of 10 Army posts to Fort Tubman (Harriet Tubman), Camp Piestewa (PFC Lori Piestewa), Fort Benavidez, (Master Sergeant Roy Benavidez), Fort Moore (Lt. General Harold Moore), Fort Earley (Major Charity Adams Earley), Fort Geronimo, Fort Tuskegee?

We can forge new statues, chisel new stones, engrave new metal with the forms of men and women who were real heroes, yet written out of history. A fresh diverse landscape of truth from sea to shining sea. A more perfect union.

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