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Task Force Report Looks At Discriminations In Navy’s Ranks

Sailors at a change of command ceremony for the USS Makin Island, June 14, 20...

Credit: Defense of Department

Above: Sailors at a change of command ceremony for the USS Makin Island, June 14, 2013.

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Critics say Task Force One Navy did not go far enough to address open racism in the Navy.

Aired: February 5, 2021 | Transcript

The Navy has come out with its long-awaited report on racial bias. Task Force One Navy was created by the Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday, after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. Despite critics saying the effort feels watered down, Navy leadership says they intend to create lasting change.

There are only a handful of African American admirals, or flag officers, in the Navy and few people of color in some of the Navy’s most celebrated communities, such as Naval aviation, headquartered in San Diego. It’s where the head of the task force, Rear Adm. Alvin Holsey was based until just recently.

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“Being here, being one of eight Black flag officers in the Navy. It is a lonely spot," Holsey said. "But yes, I do know, I think the Navy is committed. I think we can gain some ground here, in what we’re doing.”

The task force worried that their effort to root out discrimination would be caught up in the past administration’s targeting of diversity training. An executive order came out during the fall, which made training difficult for federal agencies, which included the military. Some things will now be put back into the draft, now that the order has been rescinded under the Biden administration, said Dr. Charles Barber, who was hired as a consultant for the task force.

“We did have some content that talked about bias,” Barber said. “We had some material that had a discussion centered around the concept of white privilege, those are the things we want to put back in.”

Critics say the report stresses inclusion and diversity, but didn’t look more directly at overt racism.

“To me what was disappointing was what is not in the report. There was not a direct discussion of de facto racism and segregation. The current state of the Navy and why we are where we are,” said John Clark, who retired as a commander in 2018, and now writes about his experience as an African-American in the Navy.

VIDEO: Task Force Report Looks At Discriminations In Navy’s Ranks

Reported by Steve Walsh

A recently released 2017 Pentagon survey showed roughly one in five sailors and officers experienced racial or ethnic discrimination or harassment that year — more than any other service. The Navy’s process for filing discrimination complaints is broken, Clark said.

“We have some people in our service who don’t want racism in our ranks. They are willing to step up and root it out and speak up. But at the same time you have some other people. Mainly older white men, that want to retain that position of power,” Clark said.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III on Thursday ordered a 60-day stand-down to talk about racial extremism throughout the military. The Navy report didn’t address hate groups in the ranks. Despite what was left out, Barber plans to stay on to administer the findings, which are based on dozens of focus groups held behind closed doors with sailors, he said.

“Continually looking at the culture,” Barber said. “So that way we can continue to make some progress. We don’t want to keep talking about this stuff years and years from now.”

A top priority now is to bring more people of color and women into leadership roles, Holsey said.

“It’s not a one and done. So imagine every six months,” Holsey said. “This issue is not going to go away. it’s going to be embedded in our training throughout the life of a sailor. And our senior leaders are being constantly engaged and pushed to turn levers on this.”

The problem won’t go away because of a change in administration or the recent confirmation of the first African-American secretary of defense, Holsey said.

This story is part of our American Homefront Project, a public media collaboration on in-depth military coverage with funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and The Patriots Connection.

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Steve Walsh
Military Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover military and veterans issues for KPBS and American Homefront, a partnership of public radio stations and NPR. I cover issues ranging from delpoying troops along the California border to efforts to lower suicide rates among veterans.

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