Document created: 23 September 03
Air University Review, March-April 1974

Perspectives on Race Relations

Time to Consider Phase III

Captain George H. Wayne

In the armed services progressive race relations have been realized only tentatively and incompletely. Since this viewpoint permeates the article, I will not hesitate to support and explain the conclusion it urges upon the reader.

For my purpose, progress has two meanings. In a first sense, progress refers to doing what has been directed—complying with the regulations. This first sense of progress allows us to cope with our environment—it involves a working knowledge of what is required to give the appearance of “doing a good job.” This type of progress, in many ways, describes the services’ approach to race relations almost from the beginning. We tend to show what is going on without providing the actual details of what has been accomplished or what is to be accomplished.

Typically, this kind of progress illustrates the working dilemma of a bureaucracy and the pitfalls involved when we fail to consider the entire spectrum of activities surrounding a new program. While this definition of progress explains many facets of our current race relations programs, it is a simplified approach in which a complex problem has become manageable for analysis and exhibition but not for lasting efficiency.

The second definition of progress is more meaningful. Here we are concerned not just with what is going on but also with what has gone on and what the plans are for the future. The two types of progress may be sharply contrasted. With the first we are providing “computer fodder” for bureaucratic “eyewash”; with the second we are focusing on the basic objectives—providing “equality of opportunity and obtaining equality of results.” To clear up a semantic point here, “equality of results,” in the words of Civil Rights activist Bayard Rustin, means a “distribution of achievements among minorities roughly comparable to that among the dominant groups.” Within the framework of the second definition, I submit that our race relations programs in the armed services have not been progressive. Obviously we have not yet achieved equality of results. This is understandable, but failure to know where we have been or where we are going is not. It is now time to evaluate what we have accomplished, how far we have come, and consider what course or courses of action we have yet to follow.1

That our race relations programs in the armed services have still not become progressive, according to my second definition, implies some serious consequences. Yet, to conclude that the measures taken and investigations made into the problems of discrimination and racism by the Department of Defense have not contributed to the improvement of race relations would be a grave error, but to assume that we are on the safe side of the problem would be both naive and misleading. The success is obvious; the deficiencies, however, are still present, suggesting that we are relying upon a bag of tricks which if adroitly manipulated will eliminate the problems associated with racism. What can be done to make the current programs more progressive? First of all, we must recognize our failures. Then we must continue, as Lieutenant Colonel Earl W. Renfroe, Jr., candidly put it, “thrashing about for effective methodology.”2

Since bureaucracies, by their very nature, tend to be intolerant of problems, they have a proclivity toward accepting temporary solutions and making hasty decisions before the problem is thoroughly solved. To find effective methodology to deal with the problems of discrimination and racism in the armed services, we must avoid total institutionalizing of any program until we reach our ultimate objectives: equality of opportunity and equality of results. The accompanying table lists some characteristics and consequences of three patterns of bureaucracy, which show the various approaches and the problems involved. Most organizations reflect various mixes of these three patterns; consequently, bureaucracy is unavoidable. The catalog of influencing factors causing organizations to institutionalize is endless. In spite of the “red tape” and “heavy-handedness” associated with bureaucratic organizations, we must meet dual demands. Briefly, we must be committed to today’s policies and procedures, but not so deeply committed as to resist meeting and considering the challenge of tomorrow. In this context, I think we must take a hard look at what I shall call Phase I and Phase II of race relations programs and then consider a third phase.

Phase I

Phase I was implemented in 1948 when President Truman issued his historic Executive Order # 9981 integrating the armed services. This was progress. Despite the pessimism expressed by top military leaders that it was not up to the armed forces to engage in social reform and that desegregation would degrade morale, efficiency, and mission accomplishment, vast improvements were realized in all three areas. For example, integration made overutilization and underutilization of skills no longer inevitable. The greatest achievement was that minorities could be assigned and promoted on the basis of merit, rather than race, creed, or color. The discarding of the quota system eliminated the necessity for recruiting or retaining minorities, especially blacks, regardless of qualifications. In other words, the abandonment of a quota system eliminated the necessity to admit minorities into the military who did not qualify for service. In the 1950s, even though the quota system was not eliminated in all branches of the service, the degree to which it was eliminated gave minorities, in both the service and civilian life, the incentive to meet the standards. As the 1960s approached, the quality of minority servicemen, both officers and enlisted men, had improved, and remaining vestiges of racial discrimination were rapidly being eliminated.3

The signs, however, were at times deceptive. Many observers, both military and civilian, interpreted the positive goals achieved during the fifties not simply as steps in the right direction but as curative. There was no Phase II in the contingency plan. Commanders and supervisors took great pride in stating, “I treat all my men the same.” There was a tendency to oversimplify the building of altruistic character which closed our eyes to the racism and discrimination that still existed. Overt racism was not acceptable, but covert racism was still a cause of unrest in the military. Specifically, even though many of the barriers to equal opportunity were removed, the fact of equality was inhibited by practices that “kept minorities in their place,” by leaders who were ignorant of minority culture, insensitive to minority wishes and demands, and more concerned with mission accomplishment than with the tools necessary to accomplish that mission. In essence, the airplanes flew, the ships sailed, and the tanks fired, and many concluded that no real problem existed when military units demonstrated such efficiency to the nation.

The realization that racism was still a primary problem facing the military came slowly. In the civilian communities across America, black Americans had launched a revolution considered by many to be the greatest upheaval since the organization of the large industrial trade unions in the 1930s. Influenced by this activity, which began to alter the nation’s economy and to a great degree its politics, racial conflict and racial polarity became one of the most pressing problems confronting commanders and supervisors.

The military failed to act on its own. Consequently, many commanders were not prepared to cope with young minority recruits coming from communities in which the revolution was fully under way. These commanders did not realize, for instance, that one of the major prerequisites for revolution—rising expectations—had been added when the Kennedy-Johnson administration committed the federal government to the cause of black equality and took three steps to implement it. First, beginning with the establishment of the President’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity and the enactment of the Manpower Development and Training Act of 1962, the federal government launched a national effort to redress the profound imbalances between the races. Second, the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 began a major national effort to abolish poverty, a condition in which many minority recruits previously had lived. Third, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 marked the end of the era of legal and formal discrimination against minorities and created important new machinery for combating covert discrimination and unequal treatment. Naturally, with these events behind them, minority soldiers, sailors, and airmen entered the service demanding their rights, and in many instances they resorted to violence when they felt their long-denied privileges were being withheld.4

Whereas the military had led the nation in the area of race relations in the 1950s, it now barely qualified for second place when compared with industry and other federal agencies. Commanders who “treated all their men the same,” especially in the area of discipline, sought to fight force with force. Thus, in the military, violence became an increasingly common reaction when the racist refused to alter his position. Not until 1968, when the Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorder, known as the Kerner Report, concluded “that racism was the primary problem facing the Nation and was the major contribution to racial unrest throughout the country,” was action initiated to evaluate our position. Phase II evolved from this action.

Phase II

In 1970 a study to determine the causes of racial unrest in the armed forces was conducted. The study committee, chaired by Air Force Colonel (now Brigadier General) Lucius Theus, reached a conclusion similar to that of the Kerner Commission and recommended many of the programs that are now included in Phase II.5

The emphasis in Phase II is on education. To support this philosophy, a Defense Race Relations Institute was established in June 1971. The objectives of the institute are to train armed forces personnel as instructors in race relations, to develop doctrine and curricula in education for race relations, to conduct research, to perform evaluation of program effectiveness, and to disseminate educational guidelines and materials for utilization throughout the armed services. In conjunction with this program, a Race Relations Education Board was established to determine policy and approve curricula for the program. This board also serves in an advisory capacity to the Secretary of Defense.6

Anyone who has been in the military over the past ten years can easily recognize that new developments of significance in the area of race relations have occurred. These changes have taken place primarily in education and command support. For example, a more effective military service has been realized through a more effective use of the classroom, the mass media, individual therapy, and the law. In Phase II we regulated against prejudice. We have learned that regulations may not reduce prejudice directly but do help equalize advantages and thereby lessen discrimination. As a by-product of these and other actions, servicemen and women have gained the experience of working and studying side by side; and such “equal status” contact has made indirectly for lessening prejudice.

While the positive aspects of Phase II would give the casual observer the impression that we have finally solved the race problem, I hesitate to give the reader such an impression. The tendency today is again to become complacent. Currently, there are a number of impediments to making our present race relations programs progressive in the sense of achieving equality of results. I will discuss three. First, we have not devised a plan to insure equality of result after an atmosphere has been created to afford equality of opportunity. Second, we must insure that race relations and human relations remain an integral part of everyone’s responsibility. Third, and most important, the tendency toward apathy must be checked until a final solution can be obtained. By examining these impediments more closely, I hope to justify the necessity for a Phase III.

Phase III

By and large, the concepts of Phase I and II—desegregation, race relations classes, equal opportunity training, etc.— have helped to make opportunities available. But they cannot insure the outcome—equality of results. This becomes obvious when we recognize that it is not enough that all individuals start out on even terms if the members of one group almost invariably surpass the others. The distribution of success and failure within one group cannot be made comparable to that within the other groups unless the system that favors one takes the initiative and favors the other. I am not recommending tokenism. What I am suggesting instead is that we create the incentive to achieve, thereby rejecting tokenism. For example, we need not select a minority member for promotion, assignment, or higher education because he or she is of the minority, but we can identify those minorities that have achieved in spite of system past failings and, after close evaluation of their achievements, develop a method to measure and correlate their success against that of members of the dominant groups. Promotions, school assignments, and special assignments could be made accordingly, thereby achieving equality of results.

A good example of taking corrective action without lowering requirements or creating dual standards was recently cited by Colonel Ernest R. Frazier, Director, Army Equal Opportunity Programs. The Artillery Officers Candidate School has an inordinately high washout rate for blacks; the black failure rate is 44 percent, compared to 22 percent for whites. The reason for such a disparity is primarily the result of deficient background in mathematics. Colonel Frazier recommended remedial math training for men who were otherwise qualified or that those with severe math deficiencies be transferred to Infantry OCS.7 Implementation of such bold programs will naturally require restructuring our present personnel policies, but once this has been accomplished decision-making would be relatively easy and more acceptable. While this system is not the answer, it is a way of insuring that we avoid quotas and tokenism and at the same time achieve some semblance of equality of results.

Race relations must remain human relations. We must keep in mind that the only reason for a dynamic race relations program is our failure in the area of human relations. The race relations programs, in a sense, serve as a reminder of our failure. Race relations and human relations, two components of our responsibility, must not become mutually exclusive. When commanders and supervisors rely upon the race relations officer or NCO to solve racial problems, they are widening the breach between race and human relations. Specifically, when commanders and supervisors avoid conflict with minorities, or when they endorse a “hands off” policy for fear of being called racist, they actually succumb to racism by “giving them enough rope to hang themselves.” At the very least they are guilty of “benign neglect.”

Along this same line, the race relations climate can easily become apathetic. The capitulation to minority demands for their own reading materials, cosmetics, entertainment, and social life represents a greater degree of sensitivity than previously demonstrated. To allow minorities to break regulations, not report for duty on time, and not carry their share of the load tends to damage their character, thereby making a farce of the changes realized. Lieutenant Colonel John H. LaBarrie, Race Relations Officer, Fort Carson, Colorado, has commented:

Anytime a man is successful in the Establishment there is a mistrust as to how he got there, with the exception of such professional people as doctors and lawyers. When I was commander of the 2d Bn 8th Infantry (Black Panther Bn), I had soldiers come in and test me with complaints of miscarriages of justice, discrimination and inequities in promotion. After eight months a group of black soldiers gave me a brother’s arm band and said, ‘We’ve been watching you for eight months and we accept you as a brother.’ I also watch to make sure that my subordinates are not overreacting to a black commander by being too easy on black soldiers.8

The point here is that commanders and supervisors must assume the moral responsibility inherent in their positions. Responsibility cannot be practiced in a vacuum. Unless elements of sincerity, compassion, and a real desire to share one’s own life-benefits with others are present, progressive race relations are likely to be a husk. The leader must create the atmosphere in which the programs are to operate. If he reveals a tendency to support the programs merely to comply with the regulations, he is only creating a time bomb; if he pampers and pacifies a minority member under his command or supervision, he is only crippling that individual and thereby weakening the morale within his area of responsibility. On the other hand, if he gives evidence of being competent, human, enthusiastic, and responsible, he will be able to maintain rapport with his subordinates even when it becomes necessary to be demanding. When our commanders and supervisors recognize this relationship between their mission and race relations, then race relations becomes human relations as well.

Insuring that our race relations efforts do not create conflict at the working level is another problem we must consider in Phase III. The quick reaction to command decisions has, to some degree, placed many of the present programs in brittle and trivial terms. Today we see minorities not only participating in the race relations programs but occasionally representing the bulk of the leadership. The burden of responsibility for solving problems that took hundreds of years to create should not be the task of minorities. This overuse of minorities not only reinforces the misconceptions of “race relations efforts as a black pacification program” but also fosters a tendency to blame them when failure takes place. All groups, particularly the dominant groups, must remain active if the problems associated with racism are to be solved. Racially exclusive areas occupied by the dominant groups have traditionally been the problem; we must avoid creating racially exclusive areas for minorities. There is no justification for the Social Actions Career Field having a greater representation of minorities than Intelligence, Communications, or Aircraft Maintenance.9

The local race relations classes must maintain high standards. On many bases, these classes are geared to teach the dominant groups about minorities. The approach is one-sided. To teach the dominant groups so-called minority culture by emphasizing “Do’s” and “Soul Food,” at the expense of more substantive issues such as minority accomplishments and contributions, only serves to reinforce the negative image many students had before going to a race relations class. Even minorities are beginning the shortcoming of such an approach. Major G. R. King, a black Air Force officer, in a letter to the editor, Hahn AB, Germany, made this point as he stressed the necessity for blacks to go beyond such prosaic symbols. In paraphrasing a similar view expressed earlier by Carl Rowan, he stated:

Hair alone cannot be passed on for “racial pride.” Black airmen in the Air Force face a grueling challenge of survival and advancement against the most powerful forces in the world. These forces are arrayed against us now, some openly, some secretly. So we need to get down to the nitty-gritty. No nonsense or bull. . . get about the business the ramparts for equality in a democratic society.10

If race relations training is to be effective, minorities must be taught about the dominant groups. How much does a black know about the Irish or Germans, except that they are white? They need to be taught, for example, that if we removed every white person tomorrow, much of this system would remain; they need to be taught that not all whites are racists and that being white does not in itself represent the “good life.” It is true that discipline in this society is an avenue to greater success, and whites recognize that discipline can increase their chances of success; minorities must be made aware of this requirement. American society, during most of our lifetime, will not change or alter to any great degree the foundation upon which it was built—the “work ethic.” Minority members of the service must not be encouraged to reject this concept but instead must be taught to recognize the value of the work ethic and adjust accordingly. Phase III, if and when it becomes a serious consideration, should come to grips with these and other interrelated problems.

Curtis R. Smothers, who recently resigned as acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, painted a bleak picture of things to come in the area of race relations. In a wide-ranging 40-minute interview, he “accused the Defense bureaucracy of ‘a damn serious failure’ to move forward with credibility in relating to blacks, women, and other minorities.” He further stated: “The impact of black and of the equal opportunity program will increase not decrease. Unlike on the outside, where social and residential segregation continue, we in the military have to sleep side-by-side.”11 If Smothers is correct in his prediction, “the problems are getting tougher and more complicated.” I have stressed the necessity for immediately implementing a Phase III in our race relations programs in order to prevent such a prediction from becoming a reality and to avoid the crisis approach taken in the initiation of Phase II.

The fact that progressive race relations is still being hampered by these impediments should discourage the feeling that the problems connected with racism are solved. While I recognize that the argument of this article does not offer solutions, I have kept it within these confines for one reason. While the whole concept of race relations is new, it needs to be evaluated and criticized in order for it to remain viable. No one person can effectively do both. I trust that this critique will add the stimulus for readers to formulate solutions. We must recognize that perfunctory programs are meaningless; an individual will succeed and contribute only if we want him to be successful. Only in this way can we avoid burdening the present programs with bureaucratic trappings that would prevent us from obtaining our ultimate goals: equality of opportunity and equality of results.

United States Air Force Academy


1. Daniel P. Moynihan, “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action” (United States Department of Labor, Office of Policy Planning and Research, March 1965), pp. 1-6, 47-48.

2. Lieutenant Colonel Earl W. Renfroe, Jr., “The Commander and the Minority Mental Process,” Air University Review, November-December 1971, p.45.

3. Charles H. Coates and Roland J. Pellegrin, Military Sociology: A Study of American Military Institutions and Military Life (College Park, Maryland: The Social Science Press, 1965), pp. 344 and 352.

4. Moynihan, pp. 29-39.

5. Commanders Digest, “DRRI: Equal Opportunity Training School,” Washington, D.C., Department of Defense, 18 January 1973, p. 2.

6. Ibid.

7. Larry Phillips, “Race Bias Still a Problem,” Army Times, 23 May 1973, in Current News, 24 May 1973, p. 6-F.

8. Sp5 Don Bender, “LaBarrie: Minority Culture Not Understood,” Fort Carson Mountaineer, vol. 21, no. 36, 11 May 1973, p. 13.

9. Ibid.

10. “Minority Report,” The Observer, Ent AFB, Colorado Springs, Colorado, vol. 18, no. 5, 10 May 1973, p. 4; and Commanders Digest, “What Do You Know about Minority Groups?” 18 January 1973, p. 14.

11. Robert A. Martin, Jr., “Curt Smothers on Race Relations in the Defense Department: Progress Termed ‘Damned Serious Failure,’ “ Overseas Weekly, 28 May 1973.


Captain George H. Wayne (M.P.A., University of Colorado; M.A., University of Denver) is Instructor of History, U.S. Air Force Academy. Formerly a senior master sergeant, he taught at Strategic Air Command Senior NCO Academy. He has served as an instructor in the Armed Forces Air Intelligence Training Center, Lowry AFB, Colorado, and in intelligence and operational positions in Europe and Asia.


The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.

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