Top-ranking Navy officer confronts Republican criticism, stresses importance of tackling racism and misinformation

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The comments from Chief of Naval Operations Michael Gilday came during a House Armed Services Budget hearing as Representatives Doug Lamborn and Jim Banks questioned his recommendation from the book “How to Be an Anti-Racist” Ibram X. Kendi on a volunteer reading list for Navy Sailors, which Gilday linked directly to anti-disinformation efforts from adversaries such as Russia and China.

Kendi argues in the book that people must be actively anti-racist – instead of being “non-racist” – to progress towards racial equality.

“Internally, we have to understand ourselves. And we have to critically understand that we value diversity,” Gilday said, defending his recommendation of the book, although he admitted that he didn’t agree with everything. what it contained.

Gilday’s comments come as military officials were faced with a chorus of GOP voices questioning the Defense Department’s efforts to promote diversity and combat extremism within the ranks. He took a similar stance to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who stressed the importance of promoting diversity and inclusion when he suffered a similar attack from Republican senators during a hearing last week. .

Banks, a Navy reservist deployed to Afghanistan, said he thought Boston University professor and National Book Award winner Kendi was an “extremist” and asked Gilday if any sailors reading his book hurt morale.

“It’s a bigger problem than Kendi’s book. What it’s really about is trying to portray the US military, and in this case the US Navy as weak as it is awake,” he said. Gilday retorted. “We are not weak.”

Asked by Lamborn about how sailors reading the book would “improve the readiness and lethality of our navy for great power competition,” Gilday said the conversation about racism and diversity in the military is necessary to fight against the disinformation of American adversaries.

“Everyone should be able to compare fact to fiction, even our sailors. They are bombarded every day with disinformation – largely from China and Russia – on this issue which affects our national psyche,” a- he declared. Gilday. “I’m trying to get rid of it in the Navy.”

Efforts by a Republican congressman to question military efforts to promote diversity come amid a nationwide GOP push against the promotion of “critical race theory,” an old academic concept decades that recognizes systemic racism as part of American society, and that the Trump administration has attempted to become a topic of political discussion.

“You originally mentioned critical race theory. I am not a theorist. I am the chief of naval operations,” Gilday replied to Lamborn. “What I can tell you is that in fact, based on a considerable amount of time spent talking to sailors in the fleet, there is racism in the navy just as there is racism in our navy. country. And the way we’re going to get by after that is to be honest about it, not to sweep it under the rug and talk about it. “

Gilday said he read the book and praised him for how “Kendi is self-critical about his own journey as an African American in this country.”

“We’re going to make sure our army looks like America”

Austin faced similar questions Thursday during a Senate Armed Services hearing of Republican Senator Tom Cotton, who read him a list of alleged complaints from military whistleblowers about anti-extremism training initiatives and the diversity Cotton has called “anti-American indoctrination.”

“Diversity, equity and inclusion are important to this military now, and they will be in the future,” Austin replied. “And so we’re going to make sure our military looks like America and our leadership looks like what’s in the ranks of the military.”

Cotton, criticizing military training on systemic racism, had asked Austin to answer a series of yes or no questions about whether the US military was racist, after which Austin said the answers needed more context before don’t let Cotton interrupt.

“I think we need to do a little better to make sure that we are absolutely inclusive and that we are creating pathways, where pathways are available, for everyone in the line to achieve, to realize their full potential,” Austin said when allowed to add more context to his answers by Senator Tim Kaine.

While the military has diversified since WWII, minorities in the armed forces still have problems of inequality. For example, black servicemen are less likely to become officers and, therefore, are more likely to be seriously injured in the service of their country than their white colleagues.
Republican members of Congress such as Senator Ted Cruz have gone this far as unfavorably comparing the US military to that of Russia to denigrate the Department of Defense’s diversity efforts.

“We see Democratic politicians and these awakened left-wing bureaucrats and left-wing media reporters trying to destroy the US military, trying to turn it into frankly a bunch of thoughts,” Cruz told Fox News.

Last month Austin told CNN’s Barbara Starr that the US military will never be “soft”, adding that adversaries like China and Russia “would like to capitalize on talking points like this”.

“We see the politics of division more and use the military as a place of political battle,” CNN military analyst Col. Cedric Leighton (retired) said after Cruz’s comments. “It’s something that shouldn’t be done.”

CNN’s Ellie Kaufman contributed to this report.

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