'Racial Thursdays' abuse tradition sparks US army probe

Reuters / Cezary Aszkielowicz / Agencja Gazeta
The US Army is investigating allegations of so-called “Racial Thursdays”, during which soldiers were encouraged to sling racist remarks at each other.

The army unit involved is the 25th Infantry Division’s 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team at Fort Wainwright in Alaska and the soldiers the army is investigating are in the 2nd Platoon, C Company, 3rd Battalion and 21st Infantry Regiment, according to the Army Times.

A soldier, who asked to remain anonymous, told the publication that he felt he had to bring the issue to the attention of the media because his unit has a habit “of sweeping things under the rug.”

“When I first got to my unit, someone said we should do ‘Racial Thursdays’ because it’s been a tradition. It’s something they made up where you can say any racist remark you want without any consequences. The platoon sergeant said no, but the shit is still going on,” he said.

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The NCO who spoke to the Army Times, and who is black, said that while no racial slurs had been directed at him because he made it clear he wouldn’t put up with it,that nevertheless ‘Racial Thursdays’ were encouraged as a way of building camaraderie and morale.

"The way it was put to me was it was a tradition among the guys. Every Thursday, they wouldn't make you, you didn't have to participate, but they'd remind you. Everybody would get a joke in, or one person would be picked out and everybody would say jokes to that one person," the junior soldier said.

He recalled one incident where a Latino friend of his was constantly picked on because of his race, being given names like “border jumper” and “wetback” and almost got into a fight about it, until another soldier stepped in.

US Army Alaska has initiated a probe into the claims.

"Based on the results of that inquiry, and if the evidence supports it, the commander, usually the brigade commander, can elect to conduct a 15-6 investigation. It's important to emphasize that these allegations are just that. They're allegations, and that's what the investigation has been assigned to find out, exactly what happened and if anything happened," said Lieutenant Colonel Alan Brown, spokesman for the command.

The NCO said that prior to this he was wary about speaking up about the practice because of the stigma in the army of being a Blue Falcon, someone who betrays a friend.

"I care that we should have people who care about soldiers, no matter their race. And even if you're playing, you don't play like that. There are consequences to your actions. This has to stop," he said.

A spokesman for the command of the US Army in Alaska said that an inquiry into the allegations had been launched, which at the moment was an informal investigation at unit level.

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The US Army has faced allegations of intuitional racism in the past. Earlier this year the army had to delete a tweet referring to “chinks” in the armor of its special operations capabilities.

The expression ‘chinks in your armor’ is common in English and is used to refer to security weaknesses in objects or people.However, it is also a derogatory term for someone who is Chinese.

“The phrase and word have been in use for more than 600 years. It’s a proper noun, meaning a ‘crack’ or ‘fissure,’ as defined by Webster’s [dictionary]. Nevertheless, based on feedback from some followers who expressed offense, we deleted it. It was certainly not our intention to offend anyone,” said Lieutenant Colonel Alayne Conway, an army public affairs officer, as quoted by the Washington Post.

An investigation by the Guardian in 2012 found that the modern US Army had become a sanctuary for drifters, racists, and the chronically unfit.