In this chapter we are introduced to two sergeants in the U.S. Army who both declare themselves to be victims of racism. Sgt. Feyer believes that he is denied a promotion that he feels he has rightly earned based on the precedent that whites have never been successfully promoted in his platoon due to its racial makeup. At the same time, Sgt. Williams is convinced that his transfer to Echo Company has been requested because those above him in rank were unhappy with even one of their platoons being run entirely by black sergeants. As I go through and reflect upon this article, however, I find myself feeling stuck with conflicting opinions.
What really caught my attention was when the author explained that beginning with the integration of the U.S. Army in 1948, the government has been involved in eliminating racial barriers from the structures of the military’s rank system. Though members of the Army recognize this law, it has been viewed more of an order to follow rather than a value to accept and understand. One of the sergeants in the chapter even likens the Army’s integration law and equal treatment no matter ethnic or racial background to the rule on having to wear a seatbelt! Here’s where the two competing ideas come into play:
While this act of legislation can be seen as an attempt by the government to enact social change, we all know that racial stigmas against all people still exist today both in and outside of the Army. The greatest issue is, and this is also a point brought up by the author, that laws change behavior, not attitudes. Although the government is often looked to for the resolution of social issues, laws are not able to tap into deeply engrained cultural dogma that shapes the way in which we see and wish to treat one another. So in this first idea, we have to ask ourselves, does an established system of racial inequality or preference still exist here in this particular example? Does it explain why Feyer was not promoted in his company, and prove that Williams is being transferred to another unit despite his continued success in Bravo Company?
The second possibility goes along with the concept that we have been having in class about race as a social construct, and dealing with this cognitive dissonance that is created in discussing this matter as anthropologists. Although there may not be a structural system in place that reinforces racist behavior and attitudes, the fact that both of these men believe in said system is incredibly significant in and of itself. The reason that it is so significant is because these two men are playing key roles in inadvertently creating this system in which they are then allowing themselves to be oppressed. In other words, no one is actually taking deliberate action to prevent Feyer from moving up in the ranks or transferring Williams out of his sphere of influence, but because these two men have accepted this as part of their cosmology for understanding their place in society and more specifically within this microcosm, their feelings have been reinforced and therefore justified. The author curiously excludes substantial evidence that would lead us to conclude without a doubt that these men are in fact victims of racism, as they believe to be.
I leave the rest of the discussion to you all, as I have not come to a succinct conclusion on the matter myself. Have these two men indeed been targeted due to their race, or is there not enough evidence to support the assertion that Sgt. Feyer and Williams are making?