The Department of Defense (DoD) strives to have a workforce that reflects the nation’s demographics. Historically, it has failed to achieve this level of diversity within its senior leaders and officer ranks. On 1 January 2021, the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security secretaries, military service secretaries, and Commandants of the Marine Corps and Coast Guard were all caucasian and, with the exception of the Secretary of the Air Force, male.
While the confirmation of General Lloyd Austin as Secretary of Defense marks another “first,” the disparity in representation is still undeniable. Of the 1.3 million active-duty men and women in the U.S. military, 43 percent identify as people of color. But the people at the top of the chain of command, making crucial life-and-death decisions on their behalf, are almost exclusively white and male.1
1. Helene Cooper, “African-Americans Are Highly Visible in the Military, But Almost Invisible at the Top,” The New York Times, 25 May 2020.
2. Transcript from 24 September 2020 Global Virtual Townhall.
3. Evan Apfelbaum, Michael Norton, and Samuel Sommers, “Racial Color Blindness: Emergence, Practice, and Implications,” Current Directions in Psychological Science 21, no. 3 (June 2012): 205–9.
4. “Approaches to Diversity: Colorblindness vs. Multiculturalism,” Social Psych Online, 30 May 2017.
5. Apfelbaum, Norton, and Sommers, “Racial Color Blindness.”
6. Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896).
7. Project READY: Reimagining Equity & Access for Diverse Youth, “Module 11: Confronting Colorblindness and Neutrality.”
8. Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1, 441 U.S. 201 (2007).
9. Cooper, “African-Americans Are Highly Visible in the Military, But Almost Invisible at the Top.”
11. Yari Bar-Haim, Talee Ziv, Dominique Lamy, and Richard M. Hodes, “Nature and Nurture in Own-Race Face Processing,” Psychological Science 17, no. 2 (February 2006): 159–63.
12. Transcript from 24 September 2020 Global Virtual Townhall.
13. Project READY, “Module 11: Confronting Colorblindness and Neutrality.”
14. Helen A. Neville, Roderick L. Lilly, Georgia Duran, Richard M. Lee, and LaVonne Browne, “Construction and Initial Validation of the Color-Blind Racial Attitudes Scale,” Journal of Counseling Psychology 47, no. 1 (January 2000): 59–70; Carey S. Ryan, Jennifer S. Hunt, Joshua A. Weible, Charles R. Peterson, and Juan Casa, “Multicultural and Colorblind Ideology, Stereotypes, and Ethnocentrism among Black and White Americans,” Group Processes & Intergroup Relations 10, no. 4 (October 2007): 617–37.
15. Transcript from 24 September 2020 Global Virtual Townhall.
16. Evan Apfelbaum, “Color Blind Policies Could Make Diversity Harder to Achieve,” Association for Psychological Science, 19 June 2012.