Brothas and the military

C. Alexander Haywood | 5/4/2011, 5 p.m.

Does a Black man have a place in any White man's army? On a fair July afternoon five years ago, I briefly pondered this question in between deep, apprehensive breaths, while slowly inching towards one of numerous armed forces recruiting centers throughout Los Angeles County and surrounding areas.

For those of you who care to know, I say "White man's army" in reference to this country's military force, which has always been, and will, no doubt, continue to be exclusively controlled by White, high-ranking officials. Additionally, Caucasians make up 74 percent of all personnel, a number that has remained steady over time.

Unlike many other enlistment buildings, which normally house one specific military agency, the site I chose in 2006, at 3321 W. Century Blvd., comprises four separate offices, each representing a major branch of service--the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force. From 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Friday, qualified representatives provide detailed counsel to walk-ins, scheduled applicants and returning prospects, but quickly discourage those who fail to demonstrate serious interest in available options, like I did.

In the days following my visit, I couldn't help but weigh the pros and cons of military service, while also trying to define a Black man's role in it.

In one respect, the opportunity to serve my country seemed like an honorable pursuit. Conversely, it all but required that I ignore centuries of African enslavement, and the near-genocide of Native American forbears, two episodes that played a momentous part in how this nation was essentially built and temporarily sustained.

Since the dawn of the Civil Rights Movement, Black academics have challenged the notion that racism doesn't significantly factor into how the political and social constructs of America are shaped.

Even presently, despite the election of a Black man to the nation's highest office, accusations of racial inequity and hatred continue to flow freely from the mouths of minority leaders from one coast to the next, and with good reason--many of their indictments are factual.

For starters, racial profiling continues to be a thorn in the side of brown-skinned persons far and wide. Police claim their tactics for weeding out society's bad seeds are in no way influenced by skin color, place of residence, personal bias, and/or a combination of all three.

But the truth is never difficult to spot, when it's in a sea of lies. And so the cycle of racial oppression continues unchecked, particularly within urban communities, or so-called high-crime neighborhoods, versus affluent sections of the United States.

In only 22 years of living, I've personally, and often, experienced the raw end of calculated discrimination, and can attest to its demoralizing effects. The same can probably be said about a number of other ethnics, who have, at some point in time, been ill-treated by police, the salesclerk at a department store, airport security, and/or the judge in a court of law.

"It sucks," says a former engineer with the Air Force, who wishes to remain anonymous. "I sacrificed a lot when I joined up--family, friends, my daughter, all of that. But nothing has really changed now that I'm back [home]. I've probably been pulled over by police more now than I was before I left."