Lt. Gen. Jay B. Silveria, superintendent of the Air Force Academy Preparatory School, addressed cadets on Thursday in a powerful speech about treating one another with “dignity and respect” after racial slurs were written outside five black Air Force cadet candidates’ dorm rooms. One message—which was posted on Facebook by a young cadet candidate’s mom—read, “go home n**ger.”…. “There is absolutely no place in our Air Force for racism,” Silveria told the Air Force Times, adding, “I‘ve said it before: the area of dignity and respect is my red line. Let me be clear, it won’t be crossed without significant repercussions.” And clear he was. In a speech Silveria gave to Air Force cadets Thursday, the general addressed the incident head-on; during the roughly 5-minute lecture, the superintendent resoundingly denounced racism, and demonstrated the kind of moral clarity one would expect from a leader.
In our Brave New World Order, racism, bigotry, and exclusion seem to be the order of the day. It’s easy to believe that White folks elevating themselves to the top of the socioeconomic food chain is the order of the day. White makes right; everyone else exists merely to serve the interests of the ruling class. Or so good, God-fearing, Conservative White patriots have convinced themselves.
For those of us who were taught that people are people and that character is worth far more than skin color, the past few months have been…disappointing. This is why it’s been refreshing and encouraging to read the story of LT GEN Silveria.
“If you’re outraged by those words, then you’re in the right place,” Silveria said of the racist graffiti. ”That kind of behavior has no place at the prep school, it has no place at USAFA and it has no place in the United States Air Force.”
“You should be outraged not only as an airman, but as a human being,” he added.
Silveria noted the incident occurred in the context of fraught racial tensions in the United States as a whole. “We would be naive to think we shouldn’t discuss this topic,” he said. “We’d also be tone deaf not to think about the backdrop of what’s going on in our country. Things like Charlottesville and Ferguson, the protests in the NFL.”
“What we should have is a civil discourse, and talk about these issues,” Silveria suggested. “That’s a better idea.”
One way to look at Silveria’s outrage is that divisiveness harms readiness and unit cohesion. Any military unit is a team; any sort of division within a team degrades their ability to succeed. Only when team members are pulling in the same direction can they hope to fulfill their mission.
Another is that racism and bigotry are useless emotions. We all breathe the same air. We all have hopes and dreams. One demographic elevating itself above all others is as arrogant as it is impossible to justify.
“I also have a better idea, and it’s about our diversity,” he continued. “And it’s the power of the diversity … the power of us as a diverse group. The power that we come from all walks of life, that we come from all parts of this county, that we come from all races, all backgrounds, gender, all makeup, all upbringings. The power of that diversity comes together and makes us that much more powerful.”
“We have an opportunity here to think about what we are as an institution,” Silveria said. “This is our institution and no one can take away our values. No one can write on a board and question our values. No one can take that away from us.”
The sad thing is that this sort of thing is notable because it seems to be in such short supply since January 20th. Compassion, kindness, and tolerance seem to have taken a back seat as racists and bigots of all stripes endeavor to elevate their interests above those of other demographic groups. That it’s become necessary to highlights those who, like Silveria, advocate for kindness and compassion seems a sad commentary on the current state of America.
In short, LT GEN Silveria “is everything our President is not.”
Then again, we should be grateful for those willing to make it clear that divisiveness has no place in the military…and/or society in general.