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Defense Department Survey Reflects Widespread Racial Discrimination

U.S. law requires the Pentagon to survey its members about their experience with discrimination in the military every four years. The Defense Department conducted its most recent survey in 2017 but did not release the results of that survey until now. Reuters made repeated Freedom of Information Act requests; however, the department rejected the requests claiming the data constituted “information of a pre-decisional, deliberative nature” and could “reasonably be expected to interfere with the government’s deliberative process.”

A Reuters investigation revealed that service members are less likely than their civilian counterparts in the military to bring forward discrimination issues and concerns. Reportedly, service members perceive complaints result in little or no action and often backfire on the complainant.

On January 14, 2021, the Pentagon finally released the 2017 survey, revealing that 31.2%, nearly 1/3 of Black U.S. military service members, experienced racial discrimination and/or harassment. The survey confirmed reporting that individuals experiencing discrimination or harassment feared reporting issues because of retaliation. According to the report, 23.3 % of Asian and 21% of Hispanic troop members experienced harassment. The survey asks only about incidents occurring over the preceding year, so it does not include discrimination and harassment experienced throughout a career in the service. According to the report, discrimination and harassment generally occur more than once, are perpetrated by someone of a different race/ethnicity, and usually go uncorrected. Another survey is planned for later this year.