Commentary

February 14, 2014

Zero tolerance: Commander discusses racial prejudices

Lt. Col. Lonnie Hammack
21st Mission Support Group deputy commander

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — As I contemplated this article and the fact that it would be published during February, which is African American History Month, I thought at first that perhaps I’m not the best candidate to write this. After all, I’m not African-American or any other ethnic minority. Upon further reflection, I decided that some of the experiences I had growing up may be applicable, so step back a few decades in time with me for just a few minutes. The area of the country I’m from was very late in ending racial segregation. Even though my home county in Georgia was nearly equally divided between Caucasians and African-Americans, the only black person I knew until I was 8 years old was a lady that worked for my grandfather. The entire society around me was segregated. My elementary school was all white and the black elementary school was on the other side of town. Before I started third grade, my father tried to explain desegregation to me and my siblings.

I didn’t really understand what was happening. I wasn’t happy though because most of my cousins and friends had enrolled in neighboring counties, and I would no longer see them at school. The first day in Mrs. Mays’ class was rough. Desegregation had arrived. I didn’t know many people, and this one black boy kept picking on me. He called me names – racial slurs – I had never heard before. I didn’t know what those names meant, but I could tell he wasn’t being nice. After school was done, we went outside and lined up for the bus. The same boy got in line behind me and continued to pick on me. I’d had enough by that time. I turned around and shoved him as hard as I could. He fell down, then quickly got back up, ready to fight. Before we could get started, Mrs. Mays broke it up and administered some much needed old-fashioned discipline. The boy’s name was Wayne Whiting, and we became best friends shortly after sharing that experience. We were inseparable for many years, although we drifted apart a bit in high school. He retired from the Army several years ago, and I lost contact with him. I think of him often. Why do I tell this story? Because none of us are born with prejudices, racial or otherwise. Wayne didn’t know what to expect from me, and I didn’t know what to expect from him. Maybe he’d had some negative experiences from other white people. I don’t know what he thought about me, but he figured out pretty quickly that the only real difference between us was the color of our skin. That didn’t really matter to two 8-year-old boys full of energy and mischief. We had many great adventures together after that, and received more of the aforementioned old-fashioned discipline for many of those adventures. One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about my Air Force career is the zero tolerance we have for racial discrimination. It’s very different from the racially tense atmosphere in which I grew up. Once, early in my career, I was visiting home and met with another black classmate who had also joined the Air Force. We talked about the Air Force and after a while I asked him, “Did you notice the difference?” He said, “Yes, definitely.” I didn’t have to explain to him the context of what I meant. The difference in racial tolerance between what we were experiencing in the Air Force versus what we had experienced growing up in southwest Georgia was evident. Does this mean the Air Force has no further work to do in the area of racial reconciliation?

No, sadly it is an area in which we must always remain diligent. We bring in people from many different backgrounds and cultures. Some come in with social prejudices that are not compatible with our core values. We must continue to educate our Airmen on the meaning of racial equality and equal opportunity, and we must never tolerate deviance from the standard we have set. Our Air Force is much more diverse than when I joined it 30 years ago. I enjoy talking with Airmen from many different cultures.

We have so much we can learn from one another. I hope all of you will take the time this month to look around and celebrate our Air Force diversity.




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 

True inteGRITy

AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar — Your homework after reading this article is to turn to the closest Airman and ask him to define ‘integrity.’ Wait while he rattles off some version of, “integrity means doing the right thing even when no one is watching,” and then say “stop telling people that; you sound like...
 
 

Diversity is Biomedical Sciences Corps strength

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — The Biomedical Sciences Corps will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Special Order CA-5, which established the Air Force Medical Services Biomedical Sciences Corps, here Jan. 28. Many Airmen, new and seasoned, are unfamiliar with the five distinct branches of the U.S. Air Force Medical Service corps, which includes the...
 
 

Contract that started it all

DYESS AIR FORCE BASE, Texas — Many of us who have been through history class will remember the story of the Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur, and their invention of the first airplane. The Wright brothers are not only given credit for the invention of the first successful airplane, but are also attributed with being central figures...
 

 

Air Force issued me my ‘kids’

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — While I’ve decided to live the child-free lifestyle, the Air Force, in its infinite wisdom, saw the need to issue me two kids. They are both straight out of technical training and brand new to the Air Force — and one is still too young to accept an adult...
 
 

Equipping our Airmen

F.E. WARREN AIR FORCE BASE, Wyo. — When I entered the Air Force 16 years ago, my father-in-law, who is retired Army, shared a bit of service rivalry with me. He said that it’s well known the Air Force “mans equipment” while the Army “equips men.” For those of us in blue, it’s an insulting...
 
 

Maintenance versus repair … of our Airmen

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. — This commentary is not about aircraft, vehicles, or even any mechanical components. It’s about our Airmen and how we manage their care and development throughout their careers. The maintenance versus repair concept is borrowed from the maintenance community and speaks to how maintenance managers plan, coordinate and execute scheduled...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>


Directory powered by Business Directory Plugin