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Head of Air Force Academy Responds to Racism Against Cadets: “If You Are Outraged, You’re in the Right Place”

"If you demean someone in any way, then you need to get out."

Earlier this week, racial slurs were written on the message boards outside the dorm rooms of five black cadets at the Air Force Academy Preparatory School in Colorado. An act that despicable, aimed at young men and women training to serve their shared country, requires a loud, definitive response of unwavering condemnation from those tasked with protecting and guiding those young people. Fortunately, that’s exactly what the academy’s superintendent, Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, has issued.

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In the video above, he tells the approximately 4,000 cadets that the words written on these boards will not be ignored or dismissed as just something that happens. They should be angry. He tells them, “If you’re outraged by those words, then you’re in the right place.”

Silveria says this isn’t an issue limited to the prep school. Bigotry affects everyone, and it will not be tolerated on any level. “That kind of behavior has no place at the prep school, it has no place at USAFA, and it has no place in the United States Air Force. You should be outraged not only as an airman, but as a human being.”

Silveria does not shy away from bringing up the larger contexts of racial politics. “We would also be tone-deaf not to think about the backdrop of what’s going on in our country,” he says, mentioning Charlottesville and the NFL protests. There are a lot of people clutching their pearls right now and trying to turn protests of racial violence into disrespect of the military. It’s heartening to hear Silveria encourage conversations on these subjects.

Because that’s what he’s encouraging. He told his cadets and staff that when facing “horrible language and horrible ideas,” that “the appropriate response is a better idea.” Ideas like engaging in “civil discourse,” not ignoring the larger conversations. A better idea is utililzing “the power of us as a diverse group.”

More than anything, he tells these cadets that racism and bigotry will not be tolerated. He tells them, “If you demean someone in any way, then you need to get out. And if you can’t treat someone from another race or a different color skin with dignity and respect, then you need to get out.”

He repeats that idea a number of times. He asked them to take out their phones and record him, just in case they ever need a reminder. No matter what is happening in the country, no matter what our president is giving tacit permission for every single day, no matter how confident hateful racists grow, those people still can’t rob us of our ideals. And when it comes to the Air Force, “If you can’t treat someone with dignity and respect, then get out.”

(via Air Force Times, image: screengrab)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.