Three in ten service members identify as a racial or ethnic minority, a figure that is expected to grow in the coming years. A new report from Blue Star Families, “The Diverse Experiences of Military & Veteran Families of Color,” suggests that addressing existing disparities faced by military families of color will improve national security and ensure long-term military readiness as those ranks grow.
By 2027, most recruitable adults will be people of color. Yet, active-duty family respondents of color make decisions about military life based on perceptions of racism and fear for their family’s safety in communities: 46 percent of active-duty respondents of color reported that they have considered discrimination in their installation ranking decisions, and 42 percent consider concerns about their safety due to their racial identity. One in three active-duty family respondents of color said they experienced at least one incident of being threatened or harassed in their civilian (33 percent) or military (29 percent) community since January 2020.
Jobs and finances
Military service provides some financial advantages to active-duty and veteran families of color. For instance, 51 percent of active-duty family respondents of color report that their family’s financial stability is better than that of friends and family of the same race or ethnic background who are not serving in the military. And 41 percent of veterans of color said they are better able to find jobs compared to their non-white, non-military peers. However, they lag behind their white counterparts when it comes to unemployment rates and earnings.
Military spouses of color report a greater need for two household incomes than their white peers. Additionally, they experience substantially higher unemployment rates and lower earnings than their civilian counterparts.
Discrimination and slurs
Culturally, the military may exacerbate efforts to combat racial and ethnic discrimination in the workplace. “Off-color jokes, racial slurs, and discriminatory comments that are (erroneously) used to build a sense of camaraderie negatively affect active-duty service members, spouses, and veteran respondents of color,” the report said.
One in five active-duty service members, 14 percent of veterans and 10 percent of active-duty spouses of color report having been subject to slurs or jokes at least five times since January 2020 in their military or veteran community. “However, most respondents of color view the military’s ‘colorblind’ mentality as inaccurate and potentially corrosive and recognize racial equity work is both necessary and divisive,” the report added.
Recommendations for change
The challenges identified in the report are reflective of issues in American society at large, it said. There are also a number of areas where the military outperforms the rest of the country in terms of positive outcomes for service members and families of color.
“Every organization, community, and individual which desires to support military and veteran families will be less effective if they fail to consider the unique experiences of military and veteran families of color in their efforts,” the report concluded.
The report offers the following recommendations to alleviate disparities in the military community:
- Build stronger relationships and more inclusive military and veteran communities
- Empower civilian communities to support military and veteran families of color and encourage military installations to continually engage their local communities
- Strengthen and diversify the all-volunteer military
- Improve data collection and understanding of racial issues
Aaron Kassraie writes about issues important to military veterans and their families for AARP. He also serves as a general assignment reporter. Kassraie previously covered U.S. foreign policy as a correspondent for the Kuwait News Agency’s Washington bureau and worked in news gathering for USA Today and Al Jazeera English.