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Survey Examines Race Relations in Military

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 23, 1999 – White service members have a more positive perception of race relations in the military than minority service members.

That's the major conclusion of the 1997 Armed Forces Equal Opportunity Survey released Nov. 23. DoD will use survey results to suggest new courses of action in equal opportunity, senior defense officials said.

The survey went to more than 76,000 service members and was one of the largest of its kind ever conducted in the United States, the officials said. The questionnaire asked about members' overall opinion of race relations in the military as well as specific racial interactions in the preceding year.

Racial and ethnic groups surveyed were whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asian/Pacific Islanders and Native Americans/Alaskan Natives. The Defense Manpower Data Center conducted the survey. Service members responding were anonymous.

Asked about race relations at their installations and ships, 61 percent said they were good to a "large to very large extent" while 28 percent responded good to a "small to moderate extent."

Overall, the survey found 90 percent of whites positive about the state of race relations -- 68 percent rated them good to a "large or very large extent" on their bases and ships while 22 percent said good to a "small to moderate extent."

Positive race relations responses among the other groups were uniform at 84 percent to 86 percent, but with a significant difference in those who said good to a "large to very large extent." Only 39 percent of black service members checked that box compared with 53 percent of Hispanics, 56 percent of Asian/Pacific Islanders and 54 percent of Native Americans/Alaskan Natives.

Only 4 percent of all respondents said the racial climate on their installations and ships was "not at all" good -- 3 percent of whites, 6 percent of blacks, 4 percent of Hispanics, 5 percent of Asian/Pacific Islanders and 5 percent of Native American/Alaskan Natives. The balance of members responded, "don't know."

A senior defense official said the survey shows where DoD must put policies and programs in place to help service members cope with racial differences. Race relations are a readiness issue, he said, because racial tensions can destroy the bonds small units need to succeed.

Service members across the spectrum said race relations in the military today are better than in the nation. Some 46 percent of respondents said race relations in the military are better today than five years ago -- 48 percent of whites, 37 percent of blacks, 49 percent of Hispanics, 56 percent of Asian/Pacific Islanders and 39 percent of Native Americans/Alaskan Natives. Just 13 percent perceived race relations as worse -- 11 percent of whites, 19 percent blacks, 13 percent Hispanics, 8 percent Asian/Pacific Islanders and 23 percent Native Americans/Alaskan Natives.

The survey shows that large majorities of service members have "positive personal relationships" with members of other races and ethnic groups either on or off the job. Some 84 percent of respondents said they had close personal friends who are members of other races and ethnic groups. More than half reported they had more friends of another race than they did before entering the military.

The survey asked questions about offensive behavior and racial threats and harm on installations and in communities. Two-thirds of service members said they experienced offensive encounters involving other DoD members in the 12 months preceding the survey -- 63 percent of whites, 76 percent blacks, 79 percent Hispanics, 70 percent Asian/Pacific Islander and 76 percent Native American/Alaskan Native.

Some 10 percent of service members reported experiences of threats or harm. Defense Manpower Data Center officials said one of the survey's gauges of threats and harm was "Vandalized your property because of your race/ethnicity." Using that definition, 8 percent of whites reported incidents, as did 13 percent of blacks, 13 percent of Hispanics, 16 percent of Asian/Pacific Islanders and 15 percent of Native American/Alaskan Natives.

The percentages were about the same for offensive encounters in the civilian communities. Some 12 percent of all service members encountered threats or harm involving a local civilian -- 12 percent of whites, 13 percent of blacks, 13 percent of Hispanics, 14 percent of Asian/Pacific Islanders and 19 percent of Native Americans/Alaskan Natives.

Of concern to DoD leaders were questions about equal opportunity training and reporting procedures. Almost 90 percent of service members indicated they had received training and knew the reporting procedures. Most, however, also said they would not report a "bothersome" situation -- because they felt the situation was not important enough or nothing would be done about it.

DoD will use this survey as a baseline. The manpower data center will send another race relations survey to service members in fiscal 2001.

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Related Sites:
DoD News Release: Defense Department Equal Opportunity Survey and Study of Career Progression of Minority and Women Officers
DoD Survey: Armed Forces Equal Opportunity Survey
DoD Report: Career Progression of Minority and Women Officers


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