Justice and liberty for all? ‘What’s In It For Us’ unpacks the erasure, mistreatment of Black veterans

“There’s this tradition in America of completely erasing Black veterans,” said guest host Richard Brookshire 

Americans Honor Veterans Day
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This week on What’s In For Us, we continue celebrating Pride Month with guest host and co-founder/executive director of The Black Veterans Project, Richard Brookshire.

Brookshire joined host Dr. Christina Greer, Ph.D., to talk Pride at the Pentagon, the U.S. Army officer silenced for attempting to share the true origin of Memorial Day, and the Black veteran facing up to a quarter century in prison for his PTSD coping mechanisms.

The Biden administration announced its plans to maintain a Trump-era policy that bans the flying of all non-official flags, which includes the LGBTQIA flag at U.S. military installations. The policy was first introduced last year to prevent the flying of the Confederate flag and other hate symbols at U.S. bases.

Brookshire, a U.S. Army veteran, says that although the bars and stars don’t fly with the Pentagon, the Confederacy remains ever present. 

“Some of the biggest bases in the Army and some ships even are named after Confederate generals and Confederate troops,” said Brookshire adding that visibility does not always equate to inclusivity. 

Tuskegee Airmen thegrio.com
Tuskegee Airman Major Anderson shows off a Congressional Gold Medal given to all Tuskegee Airmen during a ceremony commemorating Veterans Day and honoring the group of World War II airmen November 11, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

“The overturning of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is still relatively new in the history of the U.S. military,” said Brookshire. “There’s still so many hate crimes are still perpetrated against members of the LGBTQ community, so to me the flying of the flag [at U.S. military installations], is somewhat performative.” 

Brookshire says part of the mission of the Black Veterans Project is to dismantle the barriers to care and resources many Black veterans face following their time in the military. According to the National Coalition from Homeless Veterans, Black vets make up more than a third of the homeless veteran population.

The New York Times recently reported on the story of Isaac Wright, the former U.S. paratrooper who now faces up to 25 years in prison, after becoming an “urban explorer” and scaling the tops of bridges and buildings to take photos as a coping mechanism for his battle with post-traumatic stress disorder.  

Greer pointed out that while Wright is not the first person to face criminal charges for the practice, he faces a much steeper penalty and is being treated with far less decency, pointing to the use of helicopters and statewide manhunts to arrest Wright.  

“The government views him as a threat because of the training he received, but not the Timothy McVeighs and other white boys of the world who have gone to military bases and other places and have shot individuals,” said Greer. “We see how his body is being policed as he is just trying to process what has happened to him while he was in the military.”

Greer and Brookshire also reflected on a story out of Ohio making headlines across the nation. Video of retired Army Lt. Col. Barnard Kemter’s speech being muted as he spoke about the origins of Memorial Day being rooted in slavery is now surfacing.

American Legion officials are now stepping down after admitting to cutting the mic during part of Lt. Col. Kemter’s speech as he spoke about the newly freed Black Union soldiers, who began Memorial Day as a way to properly bury and honor their fellow Black service members who were killed in battle during the civil war.

Though saddened by the incident, Brookshire said he is not surprised as the contributions of Black troops is often erased from history. 

“Par the course, the erasure of the Black contribution to the American experience is just something to be expected,” said Brookshire. “Even when we think about the ways in which Black vets are honored—there are more than 3,500 medal of honor recipients and less than 90 of them are Black.” 

Adding insult to injury, Greer added that Black Americans have fought and served in every single U.S. war since the country’s founding.

While the bulk of the episode focused on examining and honoring the true experience and injustices of the nation’s Black vets, the hosts also unpacked the implications of the reckoning currently unfolding in the NFL. The league is offering payouts to Black former players who suffered brain trauma while in the NFL.

To hear more on that, you’ll have to tune into What’s In It For Us, theGrio’s funny, smart and edgy political podcast. Now streaming on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. 

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