Black Veterans Stories of Courage in American Militry (Experience of an American Marine)

“Black Veterans Stories” showcases the courage, resiliency and vital role that veterans have played in shaping American military history. In Black Veterans Stories you will discover the courageous experiences of American military black service members and their lasting legacy spanning nearly 250 years.

Black Veterans Stories of Courage in American Militry (Experience of an American Marine)
Black Veterans Stories of Courage in American Militry (Experience of an American Marine)

The US has a population of over 341 million, and 18 million of those are brave veterans of the US military. Of those 18 million veterans, 14 per cent are Black men. I am one of the 2.4 million Black veterans in the US. I served in the US Navy from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s.

Within a few months of returning from the Persian Gulf after Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm – amid the patriotic fervor after defeating Iraq – I watched several white officers beat Rodney King on the evening news broadcast. Even more so than general society, race and masculinity are central to a military defined by warrior culture.


Central to my military experience was navigating stereotypes and comparisons about how I measured up to the white male warrior ideal. This has been largely true for Black male veterans since we began serving in the US military.

Black Veterans Stories of Courage in American Militry

This aspect of our experiences is critical to understanding a story that has yet to be fully discussed. Based on my experiences in the Navy and the experiences of my family members who served in the military, race and masculinity have historically influenced cultural narratives in the US and continue to do so today.

For example, the public perception of white NFL player Pat Tillman’s service and sacrifice compared to a less well-known black soldier provides an example of the centrality of race and masculinity within military culture. Pat Tillman was a notable NFL football player for the Arizona Cardinals during the 2001 season.

On April 22, 2004, Private (PVT) Tillman was killed in action in the fog of war by members of his unit. His life and legacy were honored in a book, a documentary, and a naming ceremony. Sergeant (SGT) Johnson, along with three white members of his unit, were embedded in a Nigerien military unit on a mission to investigate Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) activity near Tongo Tongo, Niger.

On October 4, 2017, SGT Johnson was separated from the rest of his unit when over 200 ISGS soldiers attacked them. SGT Johnson and three members of his unit were surrounded and later killed.

Black Veterans Stories of Courage in American Marine

Speaking to his pregnant widow, the Commander-in-Chief in office at the time coldly told her, “He knew what he signed up to do.” This is the same Commander-in-Chief who later says that people who die for their country are “losers and idiots.”

Black Veterans Stories of Courage in American Militry (Experience of an American Marine)

Furthermore, at the time he made this comment to SGT Johnson’s widow, Black men who sacrifice their lives and risk their reputations to stand up for their dignity, as soldiers and athletes, have historically been accused of being subversive and contrary to the American way, even though this nation was born in the crucible of protest against tyranny.

A white male ideal has historically been central to military culture and veteran identity. Persistent systemic racism and systemic white masculinity bias – a bias that prioritizes white perspectives on masculinity – exists that often calls into question the masculinity of Black veterans.

This means that there is a lens through which Black veterans and service members are viewed, where there is a persistent white frame of reference. Ben Carrington’s discussion of masculinity and Black cultural resistance demonstrated how masculinity has implied power, control, and authority, qualities that have often been denied to Black men within hierarchical social structures.

Data presented by the Council on Foreign Relations reflects the demographics of today’s active-duty population, which is 60 percent white and male, despite the growing number of Americans belonging to Black and ethnic populations. White racial preference and masculinity largely influence military and veteran culture through social and positional authority (e.g., officer, enlisted).

Black Veterans Stories in Black males and white males

Access to specialized units within the military (e.g., Special Forces), perceptions about job characteristics (e.g., aviation, infantry, logistics.), and even branches of service are influenced by racialized and masculine dynamic forces. In 2021, reports showed that 95 percent of officers in the Navy SEALs — the U.S. Navy’s special operations unit — were white, and 87 percent of Army Special Forces officers were white. Yet, only 2 percent of members for each, respectively, are Black.

Black service members are only slightly better represented in the enlisted ranks. Carrington’s reference helps illustrate what the above statistics show: as recently as 2021, Black men — whether officers or enlisted — remain underrepresented in specialized units within the military, such as Special Forces, through limited access and the military’s hierarchical structure, which benefits white males. Furthermore, in a report published by the U.S. Air Force Inspector General, Black race was identified as a “barrier” and “challenge” that “others do not face.”

While not attributing all of the barriers faced by non-white men solely to racism, the report does conclude that race, ethnicity, and gender are correlative factors. The point here is that the data indicates that a persistent cultural bias exists within military culture that privileges white males.

American Culture in Black and White man Conflict

The white male warrior ideal embodies racial conflict and tension within veteran identity. A survey conducted by the Black Veterans Project concludes, “53% of minority service members have witnessed instances of white nationalism or ideologically motivated racism among their fellow soldiers.”

Black Veterans Stories of Courage in American Militry (Experience of an American Marine)

 

They further state, “1 in 3 black service members are afraid to report discrimination for fear of retaliation”. A survey conducted by Syracuse University revealed that 45% of Black veterans believed their racial/ethnic identity harmed their ability to advance in their careers.

A 2023 Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigation of twenty years of veteran claims revealed that Black soldiers experienced significant racial disparities in access to healthcare, homelessness prevention and management, and unemployment. These findings reflect the persistence of the military’s white male warrior ideal – which Black soldiers must embrace during and after their military service.

The men in my family and I navigated the military differently because we all faced the complexities of being Black men in the military, due in large part to the evolving culture of the military over the generations. Yet, our experiences share similar markers based on historical racial dynamics. An untold story remains – despite the progress made since 1948, our U.S. military still has more progress to make.

Black soldiers’ experiences at the intersection of race and masculinity often differ from those of our white peers. Central to my military experience was being measured against the white male warrior ideal. This was especially true because when I enlisted in the Navy I wanted to be a military officer.

I received racist comments and jokes and felt isolated as I was crossing the boundaries of my identity of being Black and enlisting, and later, being an officer candidate. This continued as I navigated the tensions in the division between military and civilian. Years later, I realized that other male family members also suffered trauma at the intersection of Blackness and masculinity.

In my forthcoming book, I analyze the experiences of three generations of Black veterans through the lens of race, patriotism, and veteran identity. I argue that Black veteranhood – the lived experiences of Black veterans – is radically different from our white peers.

Black Eternity conceptually demonstrates how the dynamics of military and veteran identity maintain historical racial power dynamics in all aspects of military culture. Black veterans are stereotyped as a white masculine warrior during and after military service and during the transition from military to civilian life.

What is difference Black and white veterans 

Black and white veterans are often not treated equally within or outside the military. Data provided by the GAO and US Air Force OIG reports illustrate the significant challenges that Black veterans and service members face at a disadvantage.

Black Veterans Stories of Courage in American Militry (Experience of an American Marine)

Many personal recollections also confirm that the experience of Black veterans is often different from that of our white peers, and the value of these stories is critical to understanding the dynamics of masculinity and veteran identity in our military.

Separating masculinity and power, particularly power based on racial dynamics, is problematic. Military culture is hierarchical and privileges those who meet cultural norms.

Deconstructing masculinity within the context of military culture requires acknowledging that multiple identities such as race, class, sexuality, and age intersect within military culture and are not at odds with the creation or maintenance of a culture of war.

Removing the white male warrior ideal from the center does not lower standards or weaken our military. Changing concepts of leadership and combat culture have evolved over the past 76 years since Executive Order 9981 integrated the U.S. military, but, it is clear that more work needs to be done.

Credit & Source : Bryan L. Garner (Experience of an American Marine) {National Center for Institutional Diversity}

Bryan L. Garner is an assistant humanities professor at Barber-Scotia College. His research analyzes the intersection of race, veteran identity, and patriotism from the perspective of Black American veterans.

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Abhishek Kumar is the editor of Nutan Charcha News. Who has been working continuously in journalism for the last many years? Abhishek Kumar has worked in Doordarshan News, Radio TV News and Akash Vani Patna. I am currently publishing my news magazine since 2004 which is internationally famous in the field of politics.


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