SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2002        Personal Memory Ethnographies

Patti Crocker
Military Minorities

In 1983, I joined the Air Force and my second assignment was to Rhein Main Air Base, Germany.  The new office I reported to consisted of myself, and three black men, one of whom was the boss.  On the first day, I received all of my responsibilities, including the office filing. My boss told me, žI am assigning this job to you because, even though I know I am not supposed to tell you this, women are ŽnaturallyŪ better at filing and these types of duties than men are.Ó  I was not surprised at the duty assigned, and was not disturbed by the comment but, I was very surprised that he actually told me this, especially since the military was supposed to be non-discriminating.  I ignored it and went about my business.

The location of the hangar I worked in was one mile off the main base.  On one hand I felt glad to be away from everyone, on the other hand I felt isolated from the rest of the base and the squadron.  Most of the people who worked in the hangar with me were placed there as their first assignment, or to be out of sight, especially if they had screwed up.  Even though we felt like outcasts, we pretty much stuck together and felt glad to be away from the white-collar workers who wore their dress uniforms to work.  We wore battle dress uniform (BDUŪs) and did not have to worry about the daily politics in the squadron.

When I arrived in Germany, I noticed there were a significant number of black people stationed there.  Black friends told me it was easier to live in Germany than in the United States because of racism.  I never worked anywhere with all blacks, always working with a mix of people.  I get along and like everybody, but I thought the office rules were not fair to me.

When I noticed things were ždifferentÓ, I became annoyed.  Whenever I was late or had an outside appointment, it was a big problem.   The boss denied permission for me to join any extra squadron activities and he told me, žYou need to be here at work during duty hours.Ó  I could not help but notice that my black co-worker, Bernie, was always doing something else and was not at work.  He was coming in late, leaving early, and there did not seem to be any problem with his extra squadron activities during duty hours.  I kept telling myself it was my imagination---this is the eighties, it cannot be happening.

The new girl Patti is here and thinks that I am discriminating against her because I wanted to write her up a Letter of Reprimand (LOR) for being late today.  I do not understand what her problem is.  She is saying that Bernie can do whatever he wants because he is a black male.  I do not think it is worth having two people out of the office at once in a five-person office.  She thinks I am discriminating against her because she is a white girl.  When is she going to figure out that I am the boss, which means I do not want to do other peopleŪs work?  That is why they work for me; I am not going to do their jobs while they are gone. Besides, Bernie was here before her, so he gets to do these things, not everybody can leave at the same time, but if one person is gone, it is ok, Bernie got lucky by getting here first.  I cannot tell her that though.

Finally, one day, I confronted my boss when he wanted to give me a Letter of Reprimand (LOR) for being fifteen minutes late.  I asked why I would be receiving an LOR when Bernie was always late and never received one; in fact, his habitual lateness is never an issue.  I asked why Bernie received preferential treatment.  He could not give me a straight answer.  I told him that I felt discriminated against either because I was the only woman or the only white person in the office, or both.  I felt horrible; I could not believe this was happening.

We have our own little thing going on here and she comes in and tries to ruin it for everyone else.  I really do not know why she is even complaining.  She likes her work and the people outside the office that she works with; I wish she would just deal with it.  Now I have to be careful with the žpreferential treatmentÓ as she calls it.  If she mentions discrimination to my boss, I could get in real trouble because when she first got here I told her she would do the filing because women are naturally better at that than men are.  Maybe that did bother her, but she never mentioned anything to me.  If she goes over my head and tells them, I could be in deep trouble.  I guess I had better not give her an LOR, actually, now I cannot.  Not only that, but now I have to be careful, I have to watch what I say and how I treat her and Bernie, what a pain this is.  Since she is getting another promotion in a few months, maybe they will find her a different job with more responsibility and then she will be out of my hair, boy that would be a relief.

I grew up on Long Island, and in the mid 1970Ūs, in junior high school, there were racial problems.  I remember when the girls planned a race riot during school.  We were all to meet in one of the building wings and žfight.Ó  Of course, the teachers would learn about this and show up, so nothing happened.  Did I plan it?  No, I just went along with everyone else.  The black and white girls hated each other, I have no idea why.  I never had a specific problem with anyone.  Looking back now I realize how foolish it was.  The whole thing happened žjust because.Ó  This only happened in junior high.  By the time I got to high school, it was no big deal.  In junior high school you shared everything with your friends, food, drinks and cigarettes.  In high school we whites and blacks shared everything too.  The hatred seemed to have evaporated without a word spoken.

Then I moved to Florida after graduation and noticed that in the south, racial differences still meant a lot.  I did not agree, so I chose to surround myself with others who did not discriminate.  Then when I went into the Air Force, we were told there would be no discrimination whatsoever.  My original assignment was to South Carolina, I knew I did not want to go there.  Not only are they still very racist down there, they are (as I used to say) žstill fighting the war.Ó

I was so shocked that this incident happened to me in Germany at the base, I know racism existed especially in the southern United States, and I didnŪt expect to encounter gender discrimination either, but now I knew what it felt like.  Before, I could only imagine what it was like and now I realized how very degrading it is.  One of the reasons I went to Germany is because I turned down an assignment to South Carolina, so I would not have to live in a racist society.

The boss said I should be at work during duty hours because Bernie has to be gone sometimes.  Since we are the two lowest workers on the totem pole, then I need to stay in the office.  I guess it is time to find a new job.  He did not give me an LOR, and as soon as I saw a way to move out of that office, I did.  Although it was a long time ago, it affected me deeply.  I knew discrimination existed but I never knew what it felt like.  It never entered my mind that this could happen; I mean we were both the minority, along the borderlands of race and gender, how could he not understand what was happening?  Who could relate to discrimination more than another minority?

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