Marines Say Banning Confederate Flag Is Only One Step To Confronting Racism In The Corps
KPBS Midday Edition Segments / June 26, 2020
Top Marine leaders issued a call to have a conversation surrounding race in the Corps, but Marines say that conversation has never been easy.
Speaker 1: 00:00 The Marine Corps recently banned the Confederate flag on military bases around the world. It was the first step toward what the commandant of the Marine Corps has called a difficult conversation. One about racism in the Corps. Marines say this conversation has never been easy. KPBS, military reporter. Steve Walsh has the story.
Speaker 2: 00:22 I sit up, look at me now from the time Marines enter bootcamp, they're told that the service is colorblind. There are no white Marines. Brown Marines are black Marines. Everyone is Marine green.
Speaker 3: 00:35 That statement I'm totally against. Um, and, and I explained it to a lot of the leaders.
Speaker 2: 00:40 Stefan Williams runs a leadership training firm in Jacksonville, Florida. He joined the Corps in 1993 and retired in 2014. During that time, Williams facilitated many conversations on racial bias. He still works with Marine units as a consultant.
Speaker 3: 00:56 When you tell people that, Hey, you're all green. It's just like saying, I don't see color. If you don't see color, you don't know who's on your team. So I have to know that, Hey, as an Asian Marine, I know the cultural challenges you're going to have in the Marine Corps.
Speaker 2: 01:10 Williams, who is African American remembers walking into an empty barracks. His new roommate had a Confederate flag on the wall.
Speaker 3: 01:18 Well, I told them, Hey, listen, this is not going to work out. I'm going to have to leave. When they pulled me out of the room, I got a different roommate. But later on, that person was actually, um, court-martial okay for actively recruiting into a racist organization
Speaker 2: 01:34 Early in his career. At the time William says he didn't think about reporting the incident to his command. He feared he would be the one to get into trouble. Other Marines felt the same way. Francisco Martinez queloz is from San Diego. Originally from the Dominican Republic. As a kid, he was attracted to the macho image of the Corps. He remembers talking to a friend of his, in his unit who was consistently being singled out for extra duty. They both agreed. It was for one reason, his friend was black. And I actually remember talking to him and apologize to him. And he got me really emotional because I didn't do anything about it.
Speaker 3: 02:12 No, I didn't speak up
Speaker 2: 02:14 In conversations with a number of retired Marines. It's a common story. 10 years ago, Travis horror was at an isolated post in Helmand province, Afghanistan like horror. Most of the unit was white. He remember his fellow Marines repeatedly complaining about their African American corpsman, the Navy term for medic or says he remembers defending the Corman after seeing him help save the life of an Afghan woman. So why are you giving him a hard time?
Speaker 3: 02:40 Okay. Mmm.
Speaker 2: 02:42 Probably not as much as I should have in retrospect, but
Speaker 3: 02:46 Mmm. Young.
Speaker 2: 02:50 Yeah.
Speaker 3: 02:51 Okay.
Speaker 2: 02:52 Stefan Williams, the retired Marine who still works with military leaders on issues of racist. It's still a difficult to have.
Speaker 3: 03:00 First, let me tell you why people don't say something. They look at what they're willing to lose to do the right thing. You know, do I want to lose this if I speak out because those people are actually factors in your, in your career. If you're gonna get promoted, if you're not, you don't get to duty station. If you're not, how long are you going to be with them? How hard they're going to make it for you. So it's very are a little different because a lot of people have power around us, but we talk about intestinal fortitude all the time and moral courage all the time.
Speaker 2: 03:32 Quintin henna was a Sergeant. He left the Marines in December, after four years in the Corps, like other Marines in it says there has been changed, but it's been slow for him. An honest open conversation is the key. It binds together people and it binds together units or shops.
Speaker 3: 03:51 And when you don't have that connection where you can talk to someone
Speaker 1: 03:56 Or have a friendly conversation at all times, and not just be work related, it could diminish relationships between shops. It could diminish relationships.
Speaker 2: 04:07 So many people, he welcomed the ban on the Confederate flag, but he says the core is no worse or no better than any other American institution when it comes to handling race. Meanwhile, secretary of defense, Mark Esper recently announced that he was ordering the Pentagon to take yet another look at how racial dynamics play out across the military. Steve Walsh, KPBS news.
Speaker 1: 04:30 This story was produced by the American Homefront project, a public media collaboration that reports on American military life and veterans funding comes from the corporation for public broadcasting.