This is my perspective on race relations in the military and toward military veterans—here in New Orleans, and throughout America. I appreciate all perspectives and pray you will appreciate mine.
In 1994, while still in high school, I joined the US Army as a Legal Specialist, 71D. I was proud to serve my country. I’d built up enough courage to tell myself, “You might deploy and be killed in action”, and I was at peace with that. My dad and his brothers were all military—as well as my grandfather, many of my forefathers, and many people who I looked up to—men and women.
One of the military people I looked up to was SFC FW, my JROTC instructor at Pebblebrook High School. He was a retired six foot tall white guy with balding sandy colored hair— kind of a playboy with an affinity for redheads. He was a stickler for details and gave us a hard time when we weren’t perfect. I remember SFC FW calling me out of class to his office towards the end of 10th grade.
“Hardy”, he began with a deep sigh, “What the (expletive) are you doing in class?” Before my response, he continued, “You know you aren’t gonna graduate on time, don’t you? I wanted
to give you a promotion to officer, but I can’t because of your grades. You need to get your head out of your (expletive), son.”
I was shocked… and skeptical. I visited my academic counselor and confirmed that I not only was short on credits to graduate on time, I was also ineligible to purchase our 1994 class ring—something all students look forward to. For a moment, depression set in. I was angry at myself for years of defying teachers and not caring what grade they gave me. I was determined to graduate on time, and SFC FW was determined to help. He checked in with me from time to time and encouraged me to finish strong. I graduated in the summer of 1994, with a 1995 class ring.
Privilege vs Patriotism: Inclusionary and Compassionate leadership and teamwork make the dream work
The first day of basic training, I witnessed, for the first time, someone of privilege try to exercise that privilege and be rejected. He was the son of a lawyer, and he wanted everyone to know that he knew his rights. As he stood there with his head cocked to the side, rolling his eyes and quoting his rights, a swarm of black drill sergeants surrounded him yelling in unison, “you have no rights, private!” I couldn’t contain my smirk and had to do push-ups until my arms gave out as punishment.
Both my drill sergeants were black. They hated me and my arrogance so much they made me platoon guide—a highly coveted position. I never got a “black pass”. Instead, they constantly told me I wasn’t good enough to hold the position, and when they found my asthma inhaler (asthmatics are not allowed to join the military) they gave the position to PVT O, a Latino American soldier. They gave the position back to me when PVT O fraternized with a member of the first female training platoon ”
Basic training was full of race and gender learning lessons. At the end of the day, through many field training exercises, we learned that our lives depended on one another—as soldiers wearing the same uniform.
I was voted “Soldier of the Quarter” in Basic Training and Class Leader in Legal Specialist school. They offered me Warrant Officer Flight Training and I declined—I wanted to wear the sword and feather as a Legal Specialist. After graduating AIT, my first assignment was 1st Cavalry Division in Fort Hood, Texas. No bueno. The day I arrived there, my unit was in the field. They told me that I should get used to it—being in the field—and that I should also get used to deploying overseas.
Later that day, the Legal SGM for Three Corps knocked on my door. An older white man with a crazy sense of humor, he said, “I’m saving your ass son,” and brought me to 3rd Squadron, 6th Calvary Brigade, an aviation unit. There I was assigned to the Command Section where I met 1LT Lee, our S1 and a West Point graduate. I was the first legal specialist they’d had in a while, and since I was the lowest ranking member of the Squadron, 1LT Lee spent much time teaching officers what authority I had and what authority they didn’t have—to impose cruel, unusual, or unfair punishments on their soldiers or me. There were many times commanders would attempt to have me perform punishments that were not allowed or proved questionable under the Uniformed Code of Military Justice. More often than not racial preference mattered. I stood my ground, even to the point of following the order to write my own Article 15, a retaliation for my “belligerence.”
A short time after that incident, 1LT L asked me if I’d considered going to West Point. “West Point? What’s that?” I replied. He answered my questions and even brought me to an information session. I told him I barely graduated from high school and would likely not be able to compete against what West Point said was the top 10% of high school academic achievers who were admitted. He told me he would support my application anyway. I applied, and with a nomination from Georgia Congressman Bob Barr’s panel of retired officers, I was accepted to the United States Military Academy Preparatory School (USMAPS) in New Jersey. Only about 200 others were accepted to the prep school. About 1000 out of the total 10,000 – 20,000 applicants were admitted to the Academy.
At USMAPS I met Dr IG. He taught a class on self-actualization and metacognition—which I failed multiple times. I believed he used the pass/fail grading to flunk me and others on personality differences, not academic merit. He told me I just didn’t get it and seemed to talk in riddles when explaining things. I would ask him often, “What am I not getting? What do you want me to do?” He knew we couldn’t graduate without passing his class. At the end of the year, I found my faith being tested — sitting in a familiar seat at graduation — watching my peers graduate while I contemplated whether the last year of my life was a waste… pondering what I should do after returning home a failure.
At the end of the ceremony, after everyone walked across the stage and received their acceptance letters, the commandant called me and Cadet Candidate GF to the stage. I was completely numb from embarrassment, but I stood erect and proceeded to the stage. After a few minutes of explaining to the audience that the two of us were special cases, he handed both of us West Point acceptance letters. We cried—I don’t cry—and tears were flowing. I was traumatized too—it was the first time I realized how much a piece of paper meant to me, my family, and my community.
At West Point, I experienced the exact opposite leadership I had grown accustomed to in basic and AIT, or even USMAPS. High schoolers who enter West Point with no military experience were in the majority. Prior service cadets existed, but we were few. We were largely looked at as targets, new egos that higher class, non-prior service cadets got to shoot at for practice. High school kids brought high school issues — from cliques and clubs, to cadets stealing from the cadet store, hazing, bullying, sexual violence, and underage binge drinking. I was confused, conflicted, and suffered from anxiety and depression. Again I received regular punishment for my “belligerence”. This time it led to my cadet team leader and cadre officer both giving me “extra duties to challenge me”— they regularly reminded me that quitting was an option.
I made it through Beast Barracks and plebe year. The second year, “Yuc Year”, proved to be the year things changed for me. I’d survived what should have been the hardest academic year of my life, to find that acceptance did not come with assimilation. I had embraced all the punishment and pettiness as a right of passage.
As an upperclassman, I experienced even more criticism and no support from my leaders. Some of my cadet leaders said I had “a problem with authority”. My church family and a few others who were in my corner couldn’t convince them otherwise. I believed I was falsely accused and that my only downfall was my lack of communication. I never communicated why I am the way I am and that I appreciate their challenging me. I’d read books that gave me a clear picture of what racism and genocide looked like. My mom and dad had challenged the system and suffered daily hate in retaliation. I was no different.
All my life, my advocates watched me suffer from racism, bullying, and my own pride. I was Bobby Brown. I did things the way I wanted to do them with the philosophy that I was doing my best to live the life I wanted to live. I identified with other black men who explored their own individuality until they had a clear picture of who they were—at that moment in time. I was James Brown. I was black—for sure. A descendant of enslaved Africans (or so the papers say). White people were mesmerized by blackness. Black people envied white privilege. Racism between all races seems to still be one of the largest factors impacting violence and oppression in our society, yet it is rarely discussed.
Today I call it cultural intolerance, which l believe leads to genocide. Poverty and violence seem to be clear indicators of institutionalized genocide and or oppression. Gentrification is rampant today. Our police and military learn to kill people to protect a chosen few and their resources. Then go about their personal lives often feeling more secure when they have firearms. Many teach their kids to defend themselves with weapons. I haven’t as of yet. In my mind, I’d like them to learn on their own if they choose to learn at all. I no longer believe in weapons.
I see cultural intolerance everyday. I know it can lead to some form of negative impact like violence, so I’ve developed a habit of intervening. I see it as a duty and it places me at risk more often than I’d like. I’ve seen cultural intolerance lead to economic exclusion, individuals and businesses “black listed” and told quite frankly they should leave the city—not just here in New Orleans, and not just transplants. I’ve seen New Orleans born veterans, teachers, artists, organizers, and scientists made targets because of their economic independence from gatekeepers. They take good people down and or demonize them using poisonous propaganda, defamation of charachter, or gaslighting.
“A Soldier Never Quits” – Tracy Riley MAJ (ret)
I believe history will remember the times the crescent city was known as a “cutthroat city”, “choppa city”, and other derogatory names. Many believe Ray Nagin was politically assassinated and now sits in jail for his “Chocolate City” comment.
Lloyd Lizard, Tracey Riley MAJ (ret), and other veterans serve society as benevolent intellectuals saving our nation (BISON) and have been made targets being hunted, incarcerated and slaughtered as their namesake did during Amerika’s colonization—their lives and reputations threatened by a chosen few government and corporate authorized assassins.
Racism and economic sanctions have taken many forms. More often than not, it looks like white male patriarchy coated in or possibly sprinkled with black and or brown assimilation and ego. According to many, Black Power doesn’t exist. I disagree. I believe White, Yellow, and Red power exist too, as well as divine masculine and feminine energy… and I believe we all are interconnected.
Separatism is not Sustainable
To me, the solution is a moral revival—self-evaluation, selfgovernance, and cultural exchange based on universal laws that reflect our collective consciousness and divine spirituality.
The problem seems to be coding and cultural dissonance. In some cases, it’s a disbelief in humanity. People don’t know what we don’t know. Most of us have forgotten how to reach consensus—not all of us. I appreciate the new opportunities to express myself freely and hear others do so in safe spaces. The recent reconciliation between military and indigenous people was born out of a revolutionary stance against the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Some of the most violent acts I’ve seen as of recent don’t (just) involve physical violence. Protestors and water protectors, including veterans and indigenous people with ancestral rights to the property, were met with extreme violence. The psychological and economic violence against nonviolent people often can leave more sustaining scars to the psyche than physical violence, in some cases negatively impacting future generations. In some cases it leads to chaos and or revolution. It will be compassion and love that will save us. Not war or money.
For most of my life, I’ve seen separatism begin with toddlers who are raised with no cultural reference to others beyond television and internet. I know people who avoid opportunities to engage with people of other cultures at all cost. I’ve observed that, statistically, members of government and military are no different than civilians—white, black or otherwise, many are racist.
Tribalism is the new racism.
Thanks to Big Easy Magazine for allowing me to tell my story.
This is (hopefully) my first published article of many to come—aside from the “New Faces of Sustainability” issue Neighborhood Partnership Network co-published with CORE USA years ago. I have been inspired by so many people I cannot name them all here, but I want to thank Paul Beaulieu and Susan Henry for giving me my first opportunity in journalism at WBOK.
You can contact Mr. Hardy on FaceBook @TilmanHardy.