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Editorial: Toward a more tolerant U.S. Navy
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Editorial: Toward a more tolerant U.S. Navy

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Racist and sexist speech and discriminatory actions have no place in America’s Navy, and the service branch is mounting a determined campaign to root them out. That’s the strong message from the Navy’s comprehensive new study of diversity and equality — or the lack thereof — in the ranks.

Members of the US Navy sang a Bollywood song at a dinner event of the U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Michael M Gilday and India’s Ambassador to the US Taranjit Singh Sandhu.

According ot a report in the Indian Express newspaper, the clip, which has gone viral on social media, was shared by Sandhu along with a caption that read, “This is a friendship bond that cannot be broken ever. US Navy singing a popular Hindi tune at @USNavyCNO’s dinner last night!” 

The study’s frank findings and thoughtful recommendations make a promising start toward confronting the discrimination, hate speech and hostile environments that persist despite years of reform efforts. Changing military culture can be tough.

Of course, racism, white nationalism and other unacceptable and potentially dangerous behaviors aren’t unique to the Navy. Task Force One Navy, which conducted the study, was established in the wake of racial justice protests across the United States last summer. Other military branches are mounting similar efforts.

In fact, the study found that in regard to race, the Navy is more diverse than the nation as a whole, although it has a ways go when it comes to equal access for promotion to senior positions, as well as in equal opportunities for women.

Rear Adm. Alvin Holsey, one of the Navy’s few Black admirals, led the task force, which is commendable for its scope and calls to action. The study involved unprecedented efforts to listen to sailors and civilians working for the Navy describe the problems they face. A team conducted interviews, held focus groups and reviewed comments and suggestions from a variety of people.

Task force members also took a tough look at Navy instructions, manuals and orders with an eye for language that might be biased or offensive. They considered recruiting, promotions and opportunities for enlisted sailors to become officers. They investigated why the percentage of minority officers declines in the higher ranks. They looked into how to continue a recent trend toward better retention of female officers, which encourages women of all ranks.

Listening and thinking critically are important, but knowledge gained doesn’t do a lot of good if a report is filed away. The task force took the vital next step of producing dozens of recommendations for action.

Holsey noted that the Navy made strides toward equality in the 1970s and 1990s, “but sometimes we take our feet off the pedal. Sometimes we can lose focus.”

This time, he said, Navy leaders mean to remain clearly focused on what needs to be done to root out discrimination and hate speech and ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed.

The Navy’s chief of personnel, Vice Adm. John Nowell, told reporters that the Navy is building a campaign to address equality in much the same way it prepares for military operations.

One recommendation is that the word “respect” take its place on the list of Navy core values, along with honor, courage and commitment. Another involves effective ways of disciplining sailors whose behavior does not show respect for others.

Other recommendations aim to increase cultural understanding, including a student exchange program between the Naval Academy and historically Black colleges and universities.

Adm. Mike Gilday, the Chief of Naval Operations, acknowledged that the Navy has “fallen short” in the past by denying full opportunities “on the basis of race, sexual orientation, sexual identity, gender or creed.” He said the Navy should be a “shining example” of an inclusive workforce.

Working toward that goal will be good for the Navy, making it stronger and more effective. It will be good for the people who are allowed to serve our country to the best of their abilities.

It will also be good for the country. Over the years, the military has been a catalyst for positive change in American life. World War II began opening opportunities for Blacks and women, even if progress was halting at times. That war also made many Americans realize that the discrimination they had lived with wasn’t the way things had to be.

By acting on this study, the Navy really can be a “shining example.”

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