Black History Month was a time to remember the great contributions of the African American community. Last month, I spent my time honoring African Americans that have excelled in U.S. national security by remembering phenomenal leaders such as U.S. Ambassador Andrew Young, General Lloyd Austin, and Congressman Donald Payne. These prestigious leaders shattered barriers by becoming the first black U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, serving as the first black CENTCOM Commander, and generating first time scholarships to serve in USAID, respectively.
African Americans have achieved remarkable contributions, but still face many setbacks. The community still faces internal and external challenges that have slowed down progress for African Americans in national security. During former National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice’s 2014 interview at the Council on Foreign Relations, she commented that she sees very little representation of people of color coming up; sadly, this statement is true. Similar to many other minority groups and women, we share an under-representation in the national security sector. This is regressive and clearly counterproductive in understanding and countering 21st century global security threats. Our country should instead lead with a full representation of the entire nation. A diversified cohort should be drawn into our national security world as a way to develop strong, collective foreign policy.
Moreover, last month made me think especially of women of color in national security and the unnecessary challenges we face. On a positive note, one of the consequences of the #MeToo campaign is an energized discussion about women in national security. This is the first time in history that women are expressing their concerns regarding gender treatment in national security. In particular, for women of color in national security, the circumstances are exceedingly bad. Marginalization, for example, is deep-rooted issue. We are the least thought of when it comes to discussing the most pressing national security issues, such as the latest national security strategy, defense policy in the Middle East, information operations, nuclear nonproliferation, terrorism, economic security, military industrial complex, and so on. You should ask yourself when was the last time you saw a women of color leading in these discussions in the media or a panel in Washington. Furthermore, we are also an afterthought when you think of an American servicemember, a diplomat, congressional foreign policy advisors, intelligence analyst, or USAID worker. This perception needs to be eradicated, and if you truly embrace progressive principles, then you would authentically support this effort.
Moving forward, I have committed my time to making a difference for women of color in national security. As a proud member of Women of Color Advancing Peace and Security (WCAPS), I spend my time creating opportunities and promoting talent for women of color in national security. I am extremely passionate about the mission because I have repeatedly heard unfortunate stories from women of color in this profession. WCAPS is an excellent organization that women of color can use to share their expertise and experiences, as well as to acquire professional development and expand their networks. Through this work, WCAPS is empowering women of color to establish and participate in a national security field that properly reflects the diversity of the United States.
Asha Castleberry is a member of Truman National Security Project’s Defense Council, U.S. Army veteran, and Adjunct Faculty Professor at Fordham University. Views expressed are her own.