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  • Harroll Ingram Jr.

The Navy Recommends Ways to Combat Systemic Racism and Sexism

A Navy task force recently published a report that included 56 recommendations to battle systemic racism and sexism. The Navy ordered the investigation and report following the protests in response to the police killing of George Floyd. Admiral Michael Gilday, when questioned about the report, shared that the Navy has “fallen short in the past by excluding or limiting opportunity for people on the basis of race, sexual orientation, sexual identity, gender or creed.” Black officers, according to the report, only represent 8% of the Navy's Officers. Women only represent 20%. The report is expected to facilitate diversity and inclusion.

Hopefully, this time, the Navy’s interventions will greatly diminish episodes of racism and sexism within its agency. If not, we will add the effort to the list of unsuccessful attempts. This isn’t the first time the DOD has tried to eradicate discrimination from its ranks. In 2009, Congress, as part of the Duncan Hunter National Defense Authorization Act, mandated the creation of a Military Leadership Diversity Commission to evaluate the policies that govern promotion and advancement opportunities for minority members of the Armed Forces. The Commission’s final report informed that women and racial/ethnic minorities were still underrepresented in leadership positions. To address the findings, the President (Barack Obama) issued an Executive Order (EO 13583) requiring a government-wide initiative to promote diversity and inclusion in the federal workforce. The results of the Navy’s recent investigation show the President’s Executive Order did not resolve the issues. At least he tried.

In my book, Cats Don’t Bark: Memoir of a Black Federal Employee, I mentioned the long-running issue of the Navy’s discrimination against black people. In 1817, the Board of Navy Commissioners banned the employment of all blacks. In 1913, President Woodrow Wilson authorized the segregation of the federal government because his administration personnel felt forcing white and black employees to work together and share facilities was intolerable. The appendix of my book includes a letter I sent to President Obama requesting actions that might help facilitate diversity and inclusion in the federal workforce. The form-letter I received in response left me believing no additional efforts would be taken. Perhaps President Biden will find success in alleviating/meaningfully reducing discrimination in his government.

My suggestion to President Biden, if he chooses to employ a task force against discrimination and racism in the federal government, is to ensure any investigative report submitted by his task force include results that are truly valuable and target obstacles to diversity and inclusion. The “big takeaway” from the Navy study which is the subject of this blog, according to the report, was that women often incurred additional financial burdens to meet certain grooming and uniform standards. Takeaways like this will not, in my view, meaningfully address racism or racial and gender discrimination. Surely, the taxpayers’ dollars can be used to carry out studies that yield more useful results.

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