West Point ‘Fists-Up’ Photo Is About Unity and Pride, Not Political Affiliation

Glen Ford of Black Agenda Report says the photo of West Point cadets with fists raised is a gesture of solidarity in a conservative military environment

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Story Transcript

JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network, I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore. And welcome to this edition of The Ford Report. Now joining us is Glen Ford. He’s the executive editor of The Black Agenda Report, and he’s a regular contributor to The Real News. Thanks for being with us Glen.

FORD: Thank you, Jessica.

DESVARIEUX: So Glen, there’s a photo getting a lot of media attention. Let’s pull it up here. It’s a picture of a group of black female West Point cadets with raised fists. And now the military academy West Point will be investigating this picture. So Glen, what’s your take on all of this?

FORD: Well, you know, I think first of all, people have to understand the larger context of where those sixteen young black women are living. Not just at West Point, but in the military as a whole. They represent only about 1.7% of the graduating class. The black female graduating contingent from West Point is small enough to fit on the porch that you see them standing on in the picture. So we have a group of folks that are isolated at West Point, and remain a very distinct minority in terms of the officer corps of the army, male and female. About 11%. 

In the military these young women are not in a position to speak for themselves, because the army has declared that they are under investigation. But as you said, others are speaking for them, and they say that the young women threw their fists in the air as a gesture of unity and pride. And what we see here is that gestures, body postures, anything that smacks of black pride can be seen in an environment like West Point, in an environment like the U.S. military, as somehow threatening to the order of the institution, and by extension, the order and safety of the country as a large. But what we know about the U.S. military is that, especially the officer corps, is that the people in charge are themselves quite political, and very conservative. 

There was a major who once taught at West Point, who gave a talk himself at MIT. And he said that in his experience all of the cadets said that they were Republicans, if they said they were anything at all. None of them said they were Democrats or Independents. A clear indication, he believed, that there was a great onus on not towing a Republican conservative line within the halls of West Point.

DESVARIEUX: But Glen, I want to push back a little bit, because some folks are going to look at this and say, “Hold on—this violates military restrictions on political activity.” I mean, they certainly signed up for this, and they understand those guidelines, and they are stepping outside of those guidelines.

FORD: There is not a military restriction on political activity. Political is not defined. What is in that regulation is a prohibition against partisan activity. Partisan activity is normally thought of in the United States and U.S. local law as leaning in favor of one party or the other. It does not mean not having any kind of world view. And that’s why the incident, the history I was going to refer to at the air force military academy in Colorado is so relevant. Because for years people who were not Jerry Falwell-type Christians complained that there was an environment among the teachers at the U.S. military academy in Colorado, and among the students, that was dominated by Christian fundamentalist political kind of domination, of harassment of people who didn’t actively tow that line. 

And finally in 2005 there was an investigation, similar to what’s going to go on here, and they found that although people felt uncomfortable because of the environment, the political environment at the air force academy, nobody was doing anything wrong. Because these students and these teachers could hide behind the Bible, to express their political sentiments. And they were not advocating for any particular political party, they were advocating for God.

DESVARIEUX: Gotcha, gotcha. So Glen, what do you make of this at the end of the day? It’s possible, who knows, these girls might not even graduate. Do you see this—and we don’t know if this was as a political statement, as we should say, because the mentor has gone on the record saying that this was, as you mentioned, just a form of unity. Sort of like a team rallying together and being in solidarity for actually being that 1% and being able to graduate. So what do you hope comes out of all of this?

FORD: No, nothing’s going to happen to them. I’m quite confident of that. The incident has gotten plenty of publicity. 

Look back in 2005, the U.S. army tried to ban all kinds of favored black women’s hair styles for the military. And there was a huge push back, petitions to the White House, and the military dropped that. They were trying to impose a kind of white standard on the black females in the military and it didn’t work. And they’re not going to be able to impose some kind of political definitions on hand gestures and body postures, and the way young women express their pride in themselves. That can’t work, and it’s not legal. As I said, partisan politics is illegal in the military, although they do practice it, but not having an attitude, a world-view, or a group solidarity.

DESVARIEUX: Alright, Glen Ford, joining us from New Jersey. Thank you so much for being with us.

FORD: Thank you.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End

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