Being A Black Military Spouse in America

Being A Black Military Spouse in America

Being A Black Military Spouse in America

I’ve traveled to approximately 60 countries in my life as a black military spouse and mother. Many of them alone. But most of them with two black boys in tow. People often ask me what’s it’s like traveling while black to all those places— some of which have never seen a black person—my answer. People around the world are overwhelmingly curious. I can think of only one time I felt targeted or unwelcome. Sadly, the question they should ask is what it’s like being black here at home in America.

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Being Black in the Military

Including Stories of American Exceptionalism

The notion of exceptionalism was taught in school. Basically, it meant that the US is intrinsically different than other nations and that the citizens, right or wrongly, are better than everyone else. And a large population of the country believed, and still contend, this was a positive movement.

Traveling with the military has confused and enlightened me. I have experienced prejudice, but those instances are far and few. The overwhelming treatment has been friendly, if not overly curious. People around the world are inquisitive, sometimes with somewhat alarming zeal. I can never speak for the entirety of the black diaspora, yet our travels with the military have put me in an uncomfortable position to do just that.

Exceptionalism is different than pride or loyalty. You can be proud of the country and still hold it accountable for the many shortcomings it has. Exceptionalism contends there are no flaws, and there is absolutely nothing we can learn from other cultures. And now, that same exceptionalism is directed towards a certain population in our own country. American culture includes everybody except black and brown people.

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The Military and My Dad

My Life Shaped as a Military Kid

The military has not been immune from the prejudices and racism in America. There is a long history of segregation and unfair treatment of its brown and black members. President Truman, a known racist, signed an executive order to end segregation in the military in 1948. But the effects weren’t immediately felt.

My dad enlisted in 1961. Like many black men at the time, he went into the Army to escape the poverty he was born into. And even then, he was treated with disregard and disrespect.

Exceptionalism is my father’s middle name. A white office recognized that in him and mentored him to join the officer’s ranks. And even then, he was treated with disregard and disrespect. He had to prove himself over and over again, which he did.

My dad retired as a Major, taking everything he learned from his service to work in Labor Negotiations at General Motors for another 20 years. He was a college professor, sat on the board for several companies, and now mentors young black men as an Omega Psi Phi Fraternity member.

And that’s what so confusing about being black in America. Because we get the Oprah’s, LeBron’s, Baracks’s, Kamala’s, and my dad, but they are the Black Exceptions and not the rule. So white people want to hold them up and say prejudice does not exist in America when we all know that is not true.

Black History

What’s Taught and What’s Omitted

Like many black Americans, I didn’t learn about black history until I left school. We retired to upstate New State after my dad retired from the military. I went to a good school, yet sadly, I have to admit that I did not receive a good black education. And when I look back, black education seemed to begin with slavery.

One of my teachers was a member of the Metzger family of Ku Klux Klan notoriety. He taught AP History. And the way his eyes locked with mine when he said picaninny one day still reminds me of how hard I wanted to cry when I got home that night. I wanted to quit, but my dad convinced me to stick it out. I would have no idea if he were a Nazi or a member of the Aryan Brotherhood. However, I do know I got an A in that course.

I was taught the basics, of course: Lincoln, Harriet Tubman, Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow Laws, Martin Luther King, the Civil Rights Act, and Rosa Parks.

What I wasn’t taught could not fit in the post. And sadly, black history continues to be re-written and edited out of textbooks all across America to this day.

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My Life as a Black Military Mom

I have written often about the fears I had raising black men a couple of times now. That fear manifested the moment my son took his driver’s license picture. And once again, when my son enlisted and was about to leave the country.

Writing, ‘I drew a sigh of relief. Not because I would miss Malik, which I would. But because both my kids served outside the country where I believed in my heart and soul, they’d be safer.’

Some of my white friends voiced their dismay. How could they be safer in a military uniform, halfway across the world, if something popped off? But my black and brown friends knew what I meant. And that’s because something always pops off for a black or brown child in America. We’ve been voicing our concerns for years, but those fears and frustrations have often been overlooked and misunderstood as a cry for special treatment when all we want is the same treatment.

It’s the new exceptionalism in America. You can receive the benefit of the doubt in America except if you’re black.

Honest Conversation about Race and 45 at Work

A Black Woman’s Perspective on Race

One day I found myself in the copier room with a co-worker. Let’s call her Nancy. We started talking about money– cable, to be precise. And she couldn’t afford it. Curious, I asked her if she had cable before. She said yeah, but she had to get rid of it a couple of years ago.

Now, I’m inquisitive. It turns out my co-worker had to get rid of it because she was bringing home less money. Her income hadn’t changed. Just the taxes she was paying on it. So I said something like when the Trump tax cuts kicked in, many people took a hit. Her mouth hit the floor.

No, that’s not it, she said. My mind flooded with all kinds of things to say, but I left it alone. And I started to walk away. But she stopped me by saying, you know POTUS is doing a good job. She liked 45’s foreign policy, how he was keeping illegal immigrants out, he was a strong leader, and left-wing media spun his words out of context.

The Narrative of the Angry Black Woman

Ok, so we’re going to do this, I said (to myself) and leaned into her. I told her no good foreign policy should ever keep kids in cages. That POTUS is most certainly was a race-bater at minimum, he had no morals, he was practically illiterate, and he had no idea how to lead or even lead by example. The only thing she said was all politicians lie and lack morals– look at Obama. And if I hated this country so much, why did I keep coming back?

It took everything I had to keep my composure because I know what comes next. When a black woman raises her voice, she is labeled “angry.” That didn’t change the fact that I was stunned by her comments. And remember this is pre-COVID-19, so when I say I leaned in a little, I got up in her face.

First of all, I will express my opinion anytime I like. Just because you don’t like the laws we have, doesn’t mean you can shut down the debate. America’s foundation is rooted in debate and protest. So I will not shut up or leave. I earned the right to speak with my continued service to this country. And not you, Forty-Five or the mob he rode into office will silence me. If you don’t like it, that’s entirely your problem. But I suggest you never tell another black, Vet, military spouse with two kids serving overseas to shut up or leave.

If You Hate America So Much

Why Don’t You Leave, Don’t Speak Your Mind, or You Aren’t Patriotic

The simple answer is because I am an American, and this is my home— too. Some people have decided to leave or explore time sans white people. And that’s a choice we all have to make for ourselves. However, there’s a false narrative that you can’t protest America and claim patriotism at the same time. Black athletes are told to shut up and dribble. Black American politicians are told to go back to where they come from. And when black people stand up and declare that Black Lives Matter, they are labeled a hate group and dismissed with the retort that all lives matter.

Instead of answering their question, I’ll propose a few of my own.

If you don’t like people voicing their first amendment rights, why are you here? And why do you have a problem only when that opinion differs from your own? And for the love of apple pie and baseball— what the hell happened to civil debate in this fucking country?

We Are All Witnessing White Privilege in Action

The answer to all the above is not Donald J. Trump. He is a simple con-man and a product of white privilege. He is to the new Jess Willard– America’s new considerable white hype and a prime example of white privilege.

The answer is white privilege. It’s the belief that white people are born, thinking they are entitled to better treatment solely based on their skin color. It’s the way white people assume black people only succeed because of the existence of affirmative action.

Close your eyes and imagine the worst things that could happen to the country you love. The guy in charge assaults peaceful protesters, claims Nazis can be good people too, demands loyalty while denouncing oversights and the checks and balances a democracy. This man’s ego is massive while his vocabulary is small, and his level of empathy is non-existent. He calls his fellow Americans terrorists and threatens them with the military. But not before calling for the arrest and dirt on his political rivals while conspiring with your country’s sworn enemies as he tries to silence the Free Press. And if that’s not enough, he denounces science and scientists and intelligence agencies. This man paid off a porn star he slept with while his wife was pregnant while his once failing businesses profit from the office he holds.

Now, imagine if a black man STILL led this country. His biggest scandals were he saluted a soldier with a cup in his hand, returned a bow, and wore a tan suit to work. His wife wore some sleeveless dresses. There are no pictures of her ‘vag’ on the Internet.

Black Lives Matter

Incidentally, Black lives did not matter when we were kidnapped and transported to this country in chains. Black lives did not matter when our freedom and voices were stolen, our families were separated, and our sisters and mothers were raped. However, Black lives did not matter when our brothers, fathers, and sons were lynched. Black lives did not matter when we protested for the right to vote, for equal treatment, or the constitutional rights of every individual to Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

Now fast forward to the historically disproportionate effects of police brutality, disparities in health care, education and income, racism, and mass incarceration, and you wonder. WTF took so long? Why do Black people continue to love a country that doesn’t love them back? So the next time a white person says, All Lives Matter, stop for a second. And ask yourself– why?

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  1. Gladys

    This is so frustrating to me as a Black American. Why we are so accepted, around the world for our ‘swag’ so admired and copied— our music, hair, clothing, language— even our darker skin— so appropriated. Here too, but also so feared and misunderstood. Told to not show our collective hurt or anger in any peaceful form we choose— time and time again And yet I feel this time may be a little different. I guess we both shall see.

    1. duffelbagspouse

      I agree Gladys. It’s very disheartening to know we can be accepted more outside of the country we call home. and yet our own countrymen fear us when there are the ones that have brought terror and disharmony to our country for many years.

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