We in the military are put in a compromising position where we’re not always sure what we’re allowed to say or what we can stand for. But before I put on that uniform, I should still be a human being. In the Navy, we’re told that we serve the country and so we can have our opinions, but I can’t necessarily choose one political side or another, or have any views against the country while in uniform.
I’ve been trying to reach out to other Black military members to see how they’re navigating this, how they’ve chosen to respond or not respond. We can no longer, as an organization, be ignorant because institutional racism affects so many people and manifests in so many ways. Even personally, after four years of trying to be indoctrinated into the military, I struggle with not appreciating my own identity as a Black woman. I thought that I needed to keep my hair straight just to be able to wear a military hat. I never had a chance to love myself in the way I deserve because what I heard constantly was that we all wear the same uniform, we all need to look the same.
It has taken up until now for me to feel comfortable sharing my opinion as a Black female naval officer about how these systems have actually hurt me. Up until this point, I honestly hadn’t realized because I’ve been so focused on trying to block it out so that I can serve my country well. Once I thought about it, I began to realize that we are the country. These Black people getting shot are the country that we’re supposed to be protecting. You put the uniform on and you pledge your allegiance and you take oaths and I have to ask, what are we taking an oath to? How do I use this uniform to show people that we’re actually for this country, and how can I seek change and still fight for what I believe in?
For so many of us Black folks in the military, this uniform has been a silencer because we don’t feel like we can give our opinions in a way that doesn’t seem like we’re taking sides. But this country is ours, too, and we need to not be fearful of that or be silenced by that. It has been hard, and it’s taken seeing other people join the fight for me to be more confident and say, “I can’t be silent because then I’m a part of the problem, too.” I’m not just a naval officer, I’m a human being first and foremost.
Darien Sears, 28, is a naval officer in Boston. The opinions expressed here are her own and are not meant to represent the position of the Navy or any other branch of the US military.