The Department of Defense continues to make news for the wrong reasons. A recent example involves reports of Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute (DEOMI) training for personnel assigned as equal opportunity advisers throughout the DOD.
Criticism of DEOMI last October involved a lesson on Power and Privilege, chapter EOAC-3000 of the Equal Opportunity Advisor Course student guide. The chapter emphasizes how “power and privilege can sometimes create exclusive work environments at the expense of others” and introduces students to the concept of white privilege. Two themes of that chapter deserve scrutiny. The first is that white males gain privileges and success through “unearned advantage.” The second is the assumption that “racism is everywhere.”
DEOMI defines white privilege as “the package of unearned advantages granted to those members of a diverse society with white skin.” Discussion of the concept explains that whites today benefit unfairly from historical institutional racism. By logical extension, that argument means whites—the text emphasizes white men—who achieve some level of status do so unfairly, suggesting their accomplishments are undeserved.
According to DEOMI, regardless of their socioeconomic starting point, intellectual capacity, or other factors affecting professional success, individual members of this group did not earn anything because they were unfairly advantaged by factors outside their control.
Teaching that an entire group succeeds only because of past conditions created by previous generations is unfair and disparaging of countless honorable professionals. Our equal opportunity programs are designed to ensure all members of the DOD are treated fairly. Unfortunately, the curriculum used to train the managers of these programs is littered with statements prejudicial to an entire population.
EOAC-3000 also directs future equal opportunity advisers to “assume racism is everywhere, every day.” In spite of significant racial progress in America—progress often led by changes in military programs—racism surely persists, but assuming it is “everywhere, every day” only guarantees we will perceive every act as racially based. This is a dangerous sentiment in any group; it’s potentially devastating in the military.
According to DEOMI, we must assume racism is a daily occurrence in every facet of the military: our pay, promotion, and award systems; our selection of leaders; assignment of professionals; and virtually every other DOD program.
DEOMI would better serve its students and the DOD by using less provocative language. A subtle wording change would make a big difference in the message. Acknowledging that racism may be found anywhere, at any time, is more accurate. It would also create conditions we need in equal opportunity programs: Awareness without an assumption of guilt.
Likely anticipating controversy, DEOMI labeled the chapter on Power and Privilege with the phrases “FOR TRAINING PURPOSES ONLY” and “DO NOT USE ON THE JOB” [emphasis not added]. These phrases, which appear only once, will not prevent the concepts and conclusions from influencing equal opportunity advisers in the force. In fact, parts of the chapter are quite directive. One such area is a section detailing how advisers should seek to become a “strong white ally” so they can “increase their social, political, and economic power” as means for overcoming racism and discrimination. This is also where students are instructed to “assume racism is everywhere” while also being told to “attack the source of power” as a strategy for combating racism. These are not lessons intended for training purposes only; they are meant to shape adviser behaviors.
Instead of denigrating an entire population and teaching future equal-opportunity officers to assume the worst, we should honestly fulfill the dreams of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Military professionals should “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
That sentiment is as true for white males as it is all others. We must not judge anyone by the real and perceived wrongdoing of previous generations simply because of shared traits. To do so is to say huge numbers of today’s leaders are illegitimate and our programs are undeniably biased. That borders on sedition. No wonder DEOMI caveated the chapter with such notices.
The best advice in EOAC-3000 is on the cover: “DO NOT USE ON THE JOB.”