Earlier this week, five black United States Air Force Academy Preparatory School students discovered the words “go home n****r” written on their barrack doors. This disgustingly racist act prompted Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, the Superintendent of the United States Air Force Academy, to address his students and his staff about the incident in one of the most powerful condemnations against racism uttered by a member of the United States Armed Services.
He began his statement as follows:
Ladies and gentlemen,
You may have heard that some people down in the prep school wrote some racial slurs on some message boards. If you haven’t heard that, I wanted you to hear that from me. If you are outraged by these words, then you’re in the right place. That kind of behavior has no place in the prep school, it has no place in USAFA, and it has no place in the United States Air Force.
You should be outraged not only as an Airman but as a human being, and I’ll tell you that the appropriate response for horrible language and horrible ideas, the appropriate response is a better idea. So that’s why I’m here. That’s why all these people are up here on the staff tower.
Lt. Gen. Silveria then introduced the Air Force Academy staff and enlisted his colleagues to tell everyone that everyone was unified in his comments and views on the matter. He then explained that the Air Force Academy had better ideas, including having civil conversations about complicated issues, and that the diversity of all in the Air Force was better than the racist, small-minded thinking of those who seek to divide this country.
We’re all here because we have a better idea. Some of you may think that that happened down at the prep school and it doesn’t apply to us. I would be naive, and we would all be naive, to think that everything is perfect here. We would be naive to think that we shouldn’t discuss this topic. We would also be tone-deaf not to think about the backdrop of what is going on in our country Things like Charlottesville, in Ferguson, the protests in the NFL. That’s why we have a better idea.
One of those ideas: The Dean brought people together to discuss Charlottesville, because what we should have is a civil discourse and talk about these issues. That’s a better idea. We received outstanding feedback from that session at Charlottesville.
But I also have a better idea, and it is about our diversity and it’s the power of the diversity, the power of the four thousand of you, and all of the people in the staff tower and lining the glass, the power of us as a diverse group. The power that we come from all walks of life; that we come from all parts of this country; that we come from all races; we come from all backgrounds; gender; all make-up, [and] all upbringing. The power of that diversity comes together and makes us that much more powerful. That’s a much better idea than small thinking and horrible ideas.
We have an opportunity here, fifty-five hundred people in this room, to think about what we are as an institution. This is our institution and no one can take away our values. No one can write on a board and question our values. No one can take that away from us.
Lt. Gen. Silveria then made it very clear to everyone: Anyone who does not respect the dignity of others while in uniform does not properly represent the United States Air Force and should get out immediately.
So just in case you’re unclear on where I stand on this topic, I’m going to leave you with my most important thought today. If you can’t treat someone with dignity and respect, then you need to get out. If you can’t treat someone from another gender, whether that’s a man or a woman, with dignity and respect, then you need to get out. If you demean someone in any way, then you need to get out. And if you can’t treat someone from another race or a different color skin with dignity and respect, then you need to get out.
Lt. Gen. Silveria then told the cadets to bring out their phones so they could record his final point.
Grab your phones, I want you to videotape this so that you can have it, so that you can use it … so that we all have the moral courage together. All of us on the staff tower, lining the glass, all of us in this room. This is our institution and if you heed it, and you heed my words, then you keep these words and you use them and you remember them and you share them and you talk about them.
If you can’t treat someone with dignity and respect, then get out.
This is the kind of leadership necessary in the United States today. It is no secret that we are a diverse society that should emphasize respect for everyone’s humanity. However, it is also important for such a diverse group of people to engage in civil discourse to discuss complicated topics and figure out a means to find common ground and unite against bigotry, regardless of who is spreading it. Every American should identify with Lt. Gen. Silveria’s words and strive to be as thoughtful and honest in responding to anti-American ideals.
Watch Lt. Gen. Silveria’s powerful remarks below.