Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The only privilege

This weekend I stood watch with a team of four enlisted Sailors and three additional under instruction Sailors.  We managed to get a lot of work and training done, making significant qualification progress during an otherwise fairly dead time on the watchfloor.  Between the discussions on proper turnovers, relative military power and the occasional reference to the basketball game, no one ever bothered to discuss the fact that we all came from different backgrounds and had different skin colors.

Because the truth of the matter is, none of us cared.

Sure, we notice.  I can't help but notice one of my watchstanders is black.  It's certainly not like he can hide his skin color, anymore than I can hide my receding hair line.  We have a female boss, and I could care less that she is female anymore than I could care less about her also being black.  My goal has always been to do the best job possible, make my boss look good and develop the Sailors working for me.  I've learned a great deal from people that don't look anything like myself, and I've returned that favor to others regardless of their background.

I grew up recognizing that we all come from different backgrounds, but also that we're all human and deserve a certain level of respect.  I saw racism first-hand in Bahrain, where if you were brown (Indian or Pakistani) you were actively discriminated against by the police.  I saw Indian drivers pulled over for speeding despite not doing so, and I watched Pakistani workers be forced to live in squalor because they weren't Arab.  It sickened me, but it also made me grateful to be from a wonderful country like the US where we care about the person first without regard to skin color. 

Recently I've seen reports about equal opportunity training that referenced white privilege.  While the intention by the instructor may have been to try and help people recognize that they come from a different background and can't assume the same for their subordinates (although this is being fairly generous), it comes across as grating to anyone who happens to have white skin color.  I can bet that any person they were trying to reach likely blew off the training and has only come to regard EO as another wasted Navy training.  In the long run, continuing this approach will only serve to alienate the very audience you want to reach.

The more you focus on what divides you, the more you will be divided.

If we focus on what brings us together: our sense of pride in America, our sense of belonging to the Navy, and our desire to be part of something bigger than ourselves, then we can overcome every 'ism' that exists.  We can never prevent someone from making a racist remark, but we can certainly not tolerate it when it happens.  More importantly, we can let those people that try to focus on how different we are drive us to work more closely with each other.  A racist wants to turn everything into a matter of skin color; we can counter this by making everything a matter of our inner character.

The only privilege I've had in the Navy is the privilege of working with outstanding Sailors of all backgrounds.