About US: When black soldiers served a country that didn’t serve them

Candid conversations about identity in 21st-century America
The Washington Post

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Candid conversations about identity in 21st-century America
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It’s only been 70 years since the U.S. military was desegregated

What readers learned about sexism from transgender men

Social media is not just for sharing memes and cat videos

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Growing up, Colin Powell never dreamed of being a soldier, let alone the highest-ranking one in the country

Colin L. Powell is the nation’s most famous African American soldier. He was the first African American to chair the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the country’s highest-ranking military officer, and the first to serve as secretary of state.

This week marked the 70th anniversary of the signing of the executive order by President Harry S. Truman that desegregated the U.S. armed forces. Post staff writer DeNeen L. Brown talked to three black men who were in the military during that period. They shared stories of the humiliation and mistreatment they were subjected to by their superiors and their peers as they tried to serve their country.

Powell was just a boy when the executive order was signed on July 26, 1948. On the 50th anniversary of the signing, he gave a speech at the Harry S. Truman Library in which he talked about what it was like to be a black child in a country that offered little evidence that he could one day become the country’s top military officer.

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Below is an excerpt from Powell’s speech, lightly edited for length.

At about the time all this was happening, the 12th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was an 11-year old kid who had been born in Harlem and was growing up in the South Bronx section of New York City. He was a happy-go-lucky kid, not a particularly good student, trying to get out of the 6th grade any way he could.

He was black, and he knew it. He knew his country considered him a 10th-class citizen. He knew there were places he couldn’t go. There were dreams he dare not dream.

But he was being taught to love his country with all his heart and soul, because it was a good place, unlike anywhere else on Earth, and it was founded on beliefs and principles that would eventually become reality.

He was proud to be an American, but it was sometimes hard. It was confusing. Just a year earlier, they finally let a black man step out on a baseball field with white men, and Jackie Robinson became a hero, even as he was cursed from the bleachers. Movies portrayed people who looked like him as servants and buffoons, who were shiftless, spoke poorly and were ignorant. An occasional Ralph Bunche, Roy Wilkins, Gen. B.O. Davis, or Willie Mays did little to dispel the ‘Ol’ Man River’ image that Hollywood presented to America.

He heard about a wonderful place called Levittown, which was being built for veterans on Long Island. G.I.s could borrow money from the government to buy a new home there. But they wouldn’t let you buy one if you were a black veteran. His Uncle Vic, who had served in the 4th Armored Division in Germany, couldn’t buy one.

He had heard of what it was like in the South. Lynchings. Jim Crow. No rights. Always in the back — of buses, movies, restaurants. That’s if they let you in at all.

He recited the Pledge of Allegiance every day in school that ended with ‘liberty and justice for all.’ He was just beginning to grasp that ‘for all’ didn’t mean Negroes.

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U.S. Lt. Gen. Colin L. Powell, commander of the 5th U.S. Corps, salutes while his wife Alma V. stands at attention during farewell ceremony at the headquarters in Frankfurt on Dec. 30, 1986. (AP Photo/Udo Weitz)

Many years later when he became the 12th chairman [of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] he would be asked by reporters, “When you were a little kid growing up in the Bronx, did you dream about becoming chairman?” he would answer politely, “No.” Such a dream he would have thought impossible.

But he was only 11 in 1948. He didn’t know that President Truman had signed an order that would permit such a dream to come true. And the dream came true not just because Truman signed an order. He then went about the task of “knocking the ears off” the Pentagon to make it happen. It took another six years of hard work and the example of the success of integrated units in Korea before the Army reported on October 30, 1954, that all units had been integrated. That was the month after I, the 12th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, entered ROTC at the City College of New York. Four years later, I graduated as a second lieutenant of infantry in the regular Army.

I joined an Army in which blacks had served proudly throughout the nation’s history. It was the one place where the only thing that counted was courage. Where the color of your guts and the color of your blood was more important than the color of your skin.

Black soldiers had always been willing to serve a nation that had not been willing to serve them. Black soldiers always believed what Frederick Douglass said, that once you put upon the black man the brass letters — U.S. — put a blue uniform on him, give him a rifle and a horse, make him a soldier of the nation, if he could fight well for his country, then no power on Earth could deny him eventually the full rights of citizenship.

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Trystan Cotton, 49, sits in Mission Dolores Park in San Francisco. Cotton transitioned 10 years ago. (Evelyn Hockstein for The Washington Post)

‘Crossing the Divide’: Readers respond to an intimate look at the lives of transgender men

Crossing the Divide,” The Post’s look at the experiences of four transgender men who describe the differences in how society treated them before and after their gender transitions, prompted hundreds of reader comments. Many noted that the issues that Trystan, Zander, Chris and Alex discussed not only pertain to transgender people, but also are integral to the experiences of all men and women. Sexism, racism, unequal pay and double standards are not new, but many readers said the story made them look at their own lives — and their own assumptions — from a fresh perspective. Here’s a sample of the reader comments from The Post’s website:

“It never occurred to me that as a woman, I really was considered less than, but these men see it clearly in their working worlds … This has given me a lot to think about. The sharing these men did, and insights in the article, opened my eyes to how society and those in authority (cops, etc.) really view black men. Wow! I knew there was a lot of discrimination, but didn’t realize how much worse it was for guys than for girls.”

— caramia2

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Cotton dances with Roxy Kermani, 23, during a group beginner tango class at the Escuela de Tango in San Francisco. (Evelyn Hockstein for The Washington Post)

“I liked the article mostly, but those profiled seemed to go to lengths to avoid acknowledging their new privilege. The most egregious was crediting testosterone for being able to be direct in meetings, rather than being allowed to by social norms. ‘As a man, I was finally comfortable in my own skin and that made me more confident.’ No, as a man, you were not called aggressive for doing that, and you were not talked over or given negative feedback for being direct.”

— rosepetals64

​​​”Even more telling was the observation that men simply did not speak up when they see sexism against men — even blatant, disgusting sexism. They ignore it, brush it off, bottle it up because that is what they have been taught. Which of course only makes them appear even more privileged to the gender that has been taught the opposite ….Is there any wonder men consistently rank lower than women on perceived happiness? Or that they live seven years less, neglecting their health? Or commit suicide at 4-5 times the rate of women? That most of those in power are men is hardly any consolation.”

— Landjo

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Alex Poon applies hormone gel to his shoulders in the apartment he shares with his girlfriend in Boston. Alex is 26 and in the process of transitioning. (Evelyn Hockstein for The Washington Post)

“While I’m glad that trans men got to share their experiences, I wish that the media would be just as willing talk about those same experiences that cis men face. There is a notion in society that men are privileged in every situation and can’t possibly be disadvantaged in any way, which is clearly false to anyone willing to actually think about society at large.”

— rollingforest

“Very, very interesting writing. I almost feel like recommending that my wife read it so that she understands me a bit better.”

— quiktake

“I’m a wife who recommended that my husband read it so that he understands me a bit better.”

— Boomerang1 (responding to quiktake)

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Social media is not just used as a way to talk to friends and get news headlines. It’s also where millions turn to debate issues and get politically involved. From the #MeToo movement to #BlackLivesMatter, some of the biggest social movements today were galvanized online. The Pew Research Center recently conducted a survey and found that many Americans say social media sites such as Twitter are important for accomplishing various political goals.

Almost two-thirds of Americans, 65 percent, say that the statement “social media help give a voice to underrepresented groups” describes social media sites at least somewhat well, including majorities of blacks, Hispanics and whites. But even more Americans feel that social networking sites distract people from truly important issues (77 percent) and that “social media makes people believe they’re making a difference when they really aren’t” (71 percent). Black Americans tend to voice more positive views of social media’s impact on these issues, but majorities across the three largest racial and ethnic lines see positive and negative effects.

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The poll found 37 percent of social media users said the platforms were somewhat or very important for providing a venue to express political opinions. And black and Hispanic social media users were more likely to say that than white social media users. Over half, 53 percent of black social media users, said that the platforms were at least somewhat important for giving them a venue to express their political opinions compared with 32 percent of white users.

Black and Hispanic social media users were also more likely to say the sites are at least somewhat important for getting involved with issues important to them and finding others who share their views. Over half of black social media users say the sites are at least somewhat important compared with under 4 in 10 white users. Hispanic social media users fell in the middle between white and black users on all three questions.

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A Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll from this spring looked into the ways social media is used for political activism and found fewer divisions across various races and ethnicities reporting that they used social media to express political views and post stories. Hispanics were somewhat more likely to say they frequently used sites such as Facebook or Twitter to encourage others to take action at least a few times a week (20 percent) than blacks (12 percent) or whites (11 percent). And whites (28 percent) and Hispanics (25 percent) were slightly more likely to frequently use social media to connect with people to share their views than African Americans (16 percent).

A significant majority of Americans, 69 percent, feel social media platforms are “very” or “somewhat” important for getting politicians to pay attention to issues and 67 percent said they were very or somewhat important for creating sustained movements for social change, including majorities of whites, blacks and Hispanics. Blacks and Hispanics are more likely to say that social media are “very” important for getting elected officials to pay attention to issues (36 percent and 27 percent, respectively), compared with whites (19 percent).

The Pew Research Center survey was conducted May 29 through June 11 among 4,594 respondents on Pew’s American Trends Panel, which consists of a representative sample of randomly selected adults recruited over landline and telephone. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 2.4 percentage points.

— Emily Guskin, Post polling analyst

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The violence and threats against Maxine Waters are rooted in misogynoir
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Banning straws might be a win for environmentalists. But it ignores us disabled people.
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The complicated mix of racism and envy behind blackface
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Tessa Thompson shares how her Mexican mother helped her take pride in her blackness: ‘She wanted me to be brave’
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