In an interview with David Martin on CBS’ 60 Minutes, Major Daniel Walker said he had always felt relegated to the background because of his skin color during his 11-year service as an Air Force officer. Walker alleged his fellow White officers weren’t treated with the hostility that he received.
“The way you stand, the way you walk, the way you sit, the way you speak. In what is supposed to be an objective field, [they] are subjectively rating you to others in the sort of unofficial grapevine of evaluation,” he said.
Walker alleged he and other people of his race in the military have had to check their demeanor to mitigate the way they’re perceived by their fellow White officers, telling 60 Minutes that the unspoken perception that got into his head is: “You’re big, you’re Black, with a deep voice. You’re intimidating.”
Walker said that even before heading to pilot training after graduating from the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado, he was warned by Black veterans about the reception he’ll receive once there.
“They’re going to treat you poorly. When you wash out, they’re probably not going to keep you in the Air Force,” he recalled on what the Black veterans told him.
And though Walker said he persevered and performed impressively during his time at flight school, he was still viewed in a certain way because he was lively. “I got feedback at the end of this course, however, that it was very evident that I was having a good time, and maybe I shouldn’t have been. Or [that] I talked too much…,” he said.
Walker was eventually assigned to an F-22 squadron in Virginia after graduating flight school. Initially feeling welcome, Walker said he later started experiencing an ironic but similar reception because he was a bit more reserved as compared to flight school.
“He’s too quiet. It seems like he thinks he’s too good to be here or too good for this place,” he said about his Air Force counterparts’ sentiments.
Walker decided he had had enough and quit. There are currently less than 50 Black pilots in the U.S. Air Force, according to 60 Minutes.
Bias despite integration?
The United States Armed Forces may have been integrated over 70 years ago, but allegations of racial bias by African-American officers remain strife as they claim their White counterparts climb up the promotional rank faster than them, 60 Minutes reported.
A report conducted by the U.S. Air Force Inspector General on racial disparity revealed “2 out of every 5 [African Americans in the Air Force] do not trust their chain of command to address racism, bias and unequal opportunities” and “3 out of every five [Black Air Force service members] … believe they do not… receive the same benefit of the doubt as their White peers if they get in trouble.”