U.S. Air Force Academy superintendent Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria has responded to an incident of racial harassment on campus with a powerful message.
Days after news reports surfaced about five black cadets being targeted with racial slurs on dormitory room message committees, Silveria delivered a speech to roughly 5,500 cadets, airmen, and academy staff. He set out to make it clear that what happened was unacceptable and, in the process, demonstrated how leaders should address acts of loathe aimed at marginalized groups.
In his five-minute speech, Silveria highlighted diversity as information sources of power and strength within the academy and recommended cadets to upheld its values.
Race relations in the U.S. aren’t exactly in a great place right now, and too often, bigotry is going unchecked. Racism isn’t an issue we can afford to ignore, even if it means having some very uncomfortable conversations.
“We would be naive expressed the belief that we shouldn’t discuss this topic, ” Silveria told the crowd. “We would also be tone-deaf not to think about the background of what’s going on in our country. Things like Charlottesville and Ferguson, the demonstrations in the NFL.”
“We come from all walkings of life, ” he said, “that we come from all regions of this county, that we come from all races, we come from all backgrounds, gender, all makeup, all upbringing. The power of that diversity comes together and builds us that much more powerful.”
It’s in closing that Silveria attained his most powerful point, asking the cadets in the chamber to pull out their phones so they could capture it on video.
“Just in case you’re unclear on where I stand on this topic, ” he went on( emphasis added ), “I’m going to leave you my most important thought today: If you can’t treat someone with dignity and respect, then you need to get out.”
“If you can’t treat someone from another gender, whether that’s a human or a woman, with dignity and respect, then you need to get out. If you humiliate someone in any way, then you need to get out. And if you can’t treat person from another race or different color skin with dignity and respect, then you need to get out.”
We still have a long way to go. This is just a start.
To be sure, there used to be plenty of valid criticisms of the speech. Jason Johnson at The Root blamed Silveria for “removing a ‘problem’ as opposed to eradicating it, ” and pointing to a number of fairly recent incidents that indicate the military forces doesn’t have a handle on equality quite yet.
“It’s akin to finding out there is a serial rapist on campus and saying, ‘This campus has no place for rapists, they must go! ‘” wrote Johnson. “Thanks, but perhaps you are able to prosecute them too? “
With those phases in head, it’s on all of us to push back on intolerance, discrimination, and marginalization in society. It’s on all of us to help induce the world a more only place for people of all backgrounds to live, job, and thrive.