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Addressing Military Racism as First African-American 4-star General Promoted

Aliyah Sarmiento - Teen Aspect - September 16th, 2022
(AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib, 2022)

A prestigious ceremony was held on August 6, 2022, at Marine Corps Barracks Washington for Gen. Michael E. Langley, who, after over 35 years in service, has reached one of the most prominent ranks of the military. Just five days prior, the Senate had confirmed this promotion being awarded to Langley, making him the first African-American Marine to receive the fourth star on his shoulder [1].

As the proud son of a former Air Force officer, the Louisiana native had grown up surrounded by the military his entire life. He graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington and impressively holds a master’s degree in National Security Strategic Studies from the Naval War College and one in Strategic Studies from the U.S. Army War College. He was first commissioned in 1985 and steadily made his way up the ranks, holding command at every level throughout the entirety of his career in the Marine Corps. General Langley is currently set to oversee the United States Africa Command, making him responsible for the U.S. military forces in Africa and upholding the military relationships with 53 African nations [2] .

Making a mark in the 246-year history of the Marine Corps as the first African-American 4-star general has undoubtedly called for the review of discrimination in the U.S. military and the progress it is has made and yet to do.

African-American men were not permitted in the Marine Corps’ ranks until 1942, and it took 6 more years for the U.S. military services to be desegregated by order of President Harry Truman. Thirty years after that, the first African-American Marine was promoted to become a one-star general in 1979.

While the U.S. has made substantial progress in ensuring equality of opportunities and treatment in the military, there are still numerous gaps that need to be filled before that goal ever becomes a reality.

In the fiscal year of 2020 alone, it was reported that service members had over 750 complaints of ethnic and racial based discrimination. However, as AP News highlights, “discrimination doesn’t exist just within the military rank-and-file.” An additional 900 complaints of the same nature were filed by civilians in the other sectors of the Air Force, Navy, and Army that same year. This encompasses those working behind the main scenes and handling finances, technology, and other support aspects. Alarmingly, there were over 350 complaints of discrimination based on skin color, showing how racism in the military is still very much alive and well [3].

In fact, even the military’s justice system, The Uniform Code of Military Justice, has been called into question a multitude of times for having its own issues with racial bias. Reports have shown that U.S. military personnel who are of color are “much likelier to face disciplinary action under the UCMJ than their white brothers-in-arms.” Furthermore, through an examination of the Department of Defense’s data from the years 2005-2015, it was found that black troops were around two-and-a-half times more likely to face “court-martial or nonjudicial punishment than white service members across the Pentagon’s four main service branches.” The truth behind this data becomes much more concerningly clearer when taking into consideration that the 2015 report of the DoD’s demographics showcases that around 70% of active duty members were white, while only 17% were African-American [4].

This pressing issue of racism becomes even more harmful as it is a real factor for many service members across the board. It was found through a new survey that it is not uncommon for service members of color to reject assignments due to their worries of discrimination. The survey also revealed that over 40% of active-duty family respondents took racial discrimination into consideration when listing their basing preferences [5].

All in all, racism within the military is nothing new for the United States. It undeniably detriments the efficiency of all branches and continues to discourage more and more future members from pursuing such an important career. However, with celebrations such as General Langley’s promotion, it is imperative to still note the progress that has led up to what the military is today.

As General Langley said, “The milestone and what it means to the Corps is quite essential. Not because of the mark in history, but what it will affect going forward, especially for those younger across society that want to aspire and look at the Marine Corps as an opportunity.” He hopes that present and future Marines of color can view the corps as a place where they can learn to thrive without barriers. As Gen. Langley continues to pursue his duties with established honor and respect, he paves the way for future African-Americans and minorities in the military alike.


[1] A first: African American Marine promoted to 4-star general . (2022). AP News.

[2] Diaz, J. (2022). The Marines are set to have the first Black 4-star general in their 246-year history. NPR.

[3] Stratford, K., Laporta, J., Morrison, A., & Wiefering, H. (2022). Deep-rooted racism, discrimination permeate US military. AP News.

[4] Keller, J. (2017). The Military Justice System Has A Race Problem, According To DoD Data. Task and Purpose.

[5] Kheel, R. (2022). Many Service Members of Color Are Turning Down Assignments Because of Concerns about Racism.

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