Story at a glance

  • A 2017 survey of military service members found widespread racial discrimination and harassment.
  • The results of the survey were not reported until this year, following a Reuters investigation into the military.
  • Nearly a third of Black U.S. military service members reported experiencing racial discrimination in the survey.

Four years after a Defense Department survey found widespread racial discrimination and harassment in the United States military, the Pentagon made the results public after a Reuters investigation revealed that the Trump administration had been sitting on the data. 

Nearly a third of Black U.S. military service members reported experiencing racial discrimination, harassment or both during the 12-month period tracked in the survey, but many did not report it due to "high levels of dissatisfaction with the complaint process." Reuters released its investigation on Jan. 14. The numbers back up a special report by Reuters last September that chronicled military service members' experiences and fear of retaliation for reporting discrimination.


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The survey is conducted every four years, so even as the public learns of the results for the first time, the Pentagon is required to carry out a new survey for the 2021 fiscal year. The Trump administration denied a Reuters Freedom of Information Act Request just last month while, at the same time, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand's office was also seeking the data. 

“This just-released 2017 report shows that President Trump’s Department of Defense has deliberately concealed statistics exposing a racial justice crisis in the military,” Gillibrand told Reuters. “While Defense Department leadership paid lip service to equality, they withheld a report revealing that minority service members face rampant discrimination and harassment, and those that report it are nearly as likely to face punishment as the perpetrators.”


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Compared to Black service members, 23.3 and 21 percent of Asian and Hispanic troops, respectively, reported racial discrimination, harassment or both in the same time period. Those who complained often didn’t hear back, and 39 percent of those who didn't thought nothing would be done. Most thought it would make their work situation “unpleasant,” reported Reuters. 

More than 40 percent of active duty forces are people of color, but leadership remains largely white and male. President Biden's appointment of Lloyd Austin made him the first Black defense secretary in United States history, signaling the possibility of change. 


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Published on Jan 22, 2021