The Navy Gets Woke

The popular resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement has compelled academic institutions and corporate America to make a public pledge to root out systemic racism and promote justice, equality, and diversity within their ranks, lest they face the cold-blooded mob for inaction. Internationally famed companies, including Ben & Jerry’s, JP Morgan, and Airbnb, released public apologias for their implicit sins to consumers and shareholders, bowing to the altar of identity politics to express their newfound wokeness. Even the U.S. Armed Forces, whose sole mission is to defend this nation from those who seek to do us harm, were not spared from this radical utopian ideal.

On September 9, the Superintendent of the United States Naval Academy sent an email titled, “Reflections from the Superintendent on Diversity and Inclusion,” which read, “Training sessions about the importance of diversity to our institution are scheduled for all classes of midshipmen throughout the fall semester; all faculty and staff will also be trained on diversity, equity and inclusion.” How the superintendent plans to execute this abstract, broadly unaccountable commission remains in doubt.

Which progressive organizations will the university partner with to sponsor such a curriculum and what will be its content? To those American taxpayers concerned with the leftist direction which higher education is marching towards, as it has been for several decades, this news is another disappointment to the already long list of societal grievances. Those curious regarding the nature of the proposed “diversity, equity and inclusion” training at the Naval Academy need to look no further than the mission and goals of an alumni-led group, formally unassociated but allied with the institution, which shed some light on what measures are being proposed.

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Link in the Change, the alumni-led organization, states that its mission is to “eliminate racism and prejudice at the United States Naval Academy through education, training, and community outreach. Central to this mission is partnership with Faculty, Staff, and Midshipmen toward a more just and equitable Academy.” Any individual who believes in the inherent dignity of the human person, made in the image and likeness of God, will be easily tempted to side with such a noble and Christian cause.

To fulfill its stated mission, the organization demands that the Naval Academy implements the three following objectives: “build brigade diversity reflective of the fleet, establish enduring anti-racism and bias training for USNA faculty & staff, and institute enduring anti-racism and bias education in midshipman curriculum.” To be clear, I do not object to the first call of action. The Brigade of Midshipmen should reflect the vast diversity of the men and women whom they will serve in the fleet. The group points out that “West Point more than doubles USNA’s admissions of Black candidates. Where the USNA admission rate stagnates at 7%, West Point’s rate is at over 15%, with a representation that reflects Army-wide demographics.”

The Naval Academy should aim to diversify the brigade but such intention must be grounded in merit—on behalf of the applicant. Acceptance requirements short of merit will be classified as racially discriminate quota-based entrance, commonly known as affirmative action. Though the current political sentiment will make the argument based on merit challenging (though not impossible), the institution must be cautious not to adopt the racial principle expressed by Ibram X. Kendi, author of Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America: “As an anti-racist, when I see racial disparities, I see racism.”

According to Thomas Sowell, Senior Fellow on Public Policy at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, Kendi’s widely-accepted explanation of racism is short-sighted. In Intellectuals and Race, Sowell cites political scientist Myron Weiner’s evaluation of “the universality of ethnic inequality,” which supports that, “All multi-ethnic societies exhibit a tendency for ethnic groups to engage in different occupations, have different levels (and, often, types) of education, receive different incomes, and occupy a different place in the social hierarchy.” William Voegeli, senior editor of the Claremont Review of Books, in his essay “Thomas Sowell’s Inconvenient Truths,” writes that “Sowell is profoundly skeptical of the pat idea that every disparity constitutes prima facie evidence of injustice and oppression. Any such assumption, he argues, disregards the myriad ways that human variety and freedom generate widely divergent outcomes.”

Instead of viewing the alleged low percentage of black midshipmen as forms of “injustice and oppression” against their race, the Naval Academy must take into consideration other factors which may explain the racial disparity. If the number of black midshipmen, compared to its sister service academy West Point, is low, why is this the case? Are more qualified black men and women, who desire to attend a service academy, partial to serving in the U.S. Army? Is the Naval Academy not active in its level of outreach to black neighborhoods? Are there societal, cultural, and economic considerations hindering black students from attaining the high academic standards required to gain acceptance? These are a few among many tough questions the administration must ask themselves, rather than attributing the existence of demographic inequalities to systemic racism, as certain external groups are pressuring the academic institution to welcome more diversity.

Furthermore, Link in the Change demands that USNA implement “anti-racism and bias training for USNA faculty & staff” and “institute enduring anti-racism and bias education in midshipman curriculum.” What is the purpose of this strict party-line educational program? Did faculty professors treat midshipmen, of a certain race or ethnicity, unfairly? If so, why didn’t the administration suspend those individuals perpetuating racism? If the professors are not the agents but the student body that acted upon racial hatred and bias was, why did the admissions office accept those midshipmen candidates? If the Naval Academy is systemically racist, should not the university have warned applicants that they may experience institutional racism as a midshipman?

While studying at the Naval Academy, never did I experience racism, nor did I encounter systemic racially discriminate acts perpetrated or promoted by my classmates, professors, or the administration. All midshipmen enjoyed the same privileges and amenities on campus and treated each other with the same respect that they would bestow on family members. Professors offered extra instruction for those students falling behind academically, regardless of race, color, or creed. I do not dismiss the notion that racist comments or gestures were committed by individuals who behaved under their own moral agency. Human nature is fallen and naturally prone to vice over virtue, evil over good, if not guided by a golden standard of human dignity rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

For the progressive left, however, merely being not racist is not enough. One must be aggressively anti-racist. Eric Deggans, NPR’s television critic, echoes this rationale in his essay “ ‘Not Racist’ Is Not Enough: Putting In The Work To Be Anti-Racist.” He writes, “Simply saying you’re ‘not racist’ doesn’t feel like quite enough. To effectively defeat systemic racism—racism embedded as normal practice in institutions like education and law enforcement—you’ve got to be continually working towards equality for all races, striving to undo racism in your mind, your personal environment and the wider world. In other words, you’ve got to be anti-racist.”

This axiomatic reasoning illustrates why anti-racist training is required. If you’re not an anti-racist, then by default, you’re a racist. But how does one become an anti-racist? Does completing the anti-racism curriculum make you an anti-racist? If letter grades are involved, does a student need to score an A to qualify as an anti-racist? Does reading How to Be an Antiracist or White Fragility make you an anti-racist? Does passing the online unconscious racial bias training make you an anti-racist? How exactly does one know if he has achieved the enlightened state of an anti-racist?

As exposed in Orwell’s dystopian novels and the violent histories of communist, authoritarian regimes, it is the party that decides whether an individual belongs to the party or lies in opposition. Lest they are sent to the gulag, stripped of basic human rights, and castigated from the rest of society, the general populace instantly adopts the party-line endorsed thought, speech, and virtuous actions as propagated by the party bosses.

When Stalin presided as dictator of the Soviet Union, it was not enough for a fellow comrade to be labeled as a Socialist Democrat, Menshevik, Trotskyite, or Lenin-Bolshevik, all of whom were communists in their core beliefs. Rather, a party member was required to pledge allegiance to Stalin and him alone. Similarly, in today’s political atmosphere, the party leaders—the chief diversity officers and progressive public intellectuals who draft and enforce the politically correct manifestos—claim that it is not enough for their fellow citizens not to be racist or for them to be sympathetic to the victimized community. To avoid public humiliation or, more depressingly, financial ruin, one must be a vocal member of the anti-racist league.

In 2020, racism continues to exist in our communities and, when confronted with an individual or institution acting upon racist motives, we should do our part to correct our brethren and charitably guide them towards repentance and conversion. Yet the new diversity training implemented by the Superintendent and the alumni-led group’s policy demands are misguided and perverted by a regressive ideological agenda infused with elements of critical race theory, which emphasizes the Marxist-influenced class conflict paradigm between the “oppressed” and the “oppressor”. We should be wary of allowing these utopian fascinations from infiltrating our military institutions and be able to discern the falsehood masked in virtue and truth.”

[Photo credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images News]


  • Francis Lee

    Francis Lee is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy. He has served on two deployments in the South China Sea as part of Forward Deployed Naval Forces-Japan. His writing has appeared in the National Catholic Register, Catholic World Report, and OnePeterFive. The views expressed are those of the individual only and not those of the Department of Defense (DoD).

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