With the impending release on January 20th of George Lucas’ Red Tails , it’s important to ask a simple question: “What is the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, those Black pilots who escorted white bombers over Germany so many years ago?”
If one were to rent from Netflix Soul Plane , you’ll get a glimpse of the pinnacle of Black aviation achievement since the Tuskegee Airmen took to the air.
Knowing that the Black people selected for flight training down in Tuskegee during World War II were screened for intelligence – so that they wouldn’t fail – it’s important that this point be made: The Tuskegee Airmen’s success (though much of it has been inflated) and growing legend is attributable entirely to segregation.
What? “How can you say that?,” you’re probably asking yourself. Yes, the segregation of the military (there was no separate Air Force during World War II, just the Army Air Force) is the real champion in the Tuskegee Airmen tale.
Many historians have pointed to the success (remember, most of the “success” – like never losing a bomber they escorted -was entirely made-up) of the Tuskegee Airmen as the primary reason for the desegregation of the Armed Forces. If this is true, this event must signify the death of Black aviation achievement.
When Black men were only competing with other Black men in pilot training, they had only the best scores of Black cadets to aspire to replicate; once Black men were forced to compete for the few pilot slots available in an integrated training unit, they were forced to compete with the standard set by white men.
Just as in firefighting and police exams, the results weren’t pretty. You can’t have affirmative action in the pilot seat, and lowering standards and requirements for a pilot equates to risking lives and millions of dollars in equipment.
Recall this story from the Air Force Times, which states that less than two percent of Air Force fighter pilots are Black:
Racism in the Air Force is largely a thing of the past, but that doesn’t mean all wrongs have been righted or that the issue doesn’t merit discussion, says one of the service’s 12 black general officers and the head of its recruiting command.
Brig. Gen. A.J. Stewart sees February, designated as Black History Month, as an opportunity to talk frankly about the past and the importance of diversity.
“One of the interesting questions that comes up every year is … ‘Why do we continue to have an African-American heritage month? I thought we were past these issues,’ ” Stewart said. “My perspective on that is yes, we are no longer under the bonds of slavery, [and] we no longer have legal discrimination. … However, for African-Americans in particular, we suffered very deep wounds for hundreds of years in this country, and while the wounds essentially have healed, they’ve left scars, and we are still in one sense recovering from this terrible experience.”
Only 1.9 percent of Air Force pilots are black, according to AFPC. Of 14,130 Air Force pilots, 270 identified themselves as black; another 620 declined to report their race.
“We’ve been trying for 20 years to get more black pilots, but it’s a little lower than it was 20 years ago,” said Stewart, who is a pilot.
The drop in pilots is harder to explain but probably stems from blacks being underrepresented in the sciences and technical fields, where the Air Force gets many of its pilots, Dorn said.
In Black-Run America (BRA) we are all trained in public school to understand that anytime that Black people collectively fail at something (or are underrepresented in a vocation) then only racism from white people is to blame. Or white privilege.
Recall that when the Tuskegee Airmen were trained, they weren’t up against white privilege. They were in an entirely Black unit, competing only against other Black people. This was the reason that so many Black people were able to take to the skies and escort white-flown bombers over an already mortally wounded Nazi Germany. The heavy lifting had already been accomplished by white fighter pilots and white bombing teams; why not give the 332 Fighter Group an opportunity to shine since they had logged so many flight hours?
They only competed against themselves. Success was thus guaranteed.
Upon integration of the US Military, success would no longer only be measured against fellow Black people. They had to compete with white pilots.
The legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen meant absolutely nothing upon the integration of the Air Force. In the Korean War, only a handful of Black people were fighter pilots:
In 1950, the Air Force had 25 black pilots in integrated fighter squadrons led by Captain Daniel “Chappie” James Jr., who was assigned to the 36th Squadron, 5th Air Force. Captain James was an exceptional fighter pilot who often flew his F-86 Sabre jet on dangerous, unarmed reconnaissance missions behind enemy lines — a task reserved for a select group of the most able and trusted flyers. James flew 101 combat missions in Korea and earned the Distinguished Flying Cross before being reassigned stateside. In July 1951, he became the first African-American in the Air Force to command a fighter squadron.
Again, why must we must ask ourselves why the story of the Tuskegee Airmen must continually be rehashed? Haven’t other Black pilots distinguished themselves? Well, not really. Even in the private sector, Organized Blackness is constantly attacking the airline industry for the paucity of Black pilots.
Organized Blackness tries to equate the discrimination that the Black men of the Tuskegee Airmen faced when trying to ascertain (make-up excuses) reasons for the current lack of Black pilots. But let’s not kid ourselves: there is no discrimination in the current United States Military, save that officially sanctioned against white males.
The military goes out of its way to locate Black people qualified (and intelligent enough) to place in pilot training:
About 20 percent of the U.S. military is black, compared to 13 percent of all Americans, according to recently released Defense Department statistics.
But in the two services with the majority of fixed-wing aircraft, the Navy and the Air Force, the percentage of black aviators is very small.
Navy statistics from the fourth quarter of 2002 show that of 8,557 pilots (16 percent of the officer corps), just 185 are black — 2 percent.
And in the Air Force, of 12,639 pilots (also 16.1 percent of the officer corps), just 236 officers are black pilots, or 2.1 percent.
The dearth of black pilots is hardly news. To the contrary, military officials have been aware of the phenomenon for decades.
“We can go all the way back to the 1970s,” to trace the U.S. Air Force’s efforts to increase the black pilot cadre, Brig. Gen. Leon Johnson, an Air Force Reserve fighter pilot and one of the military’s most prominent advocates for recruiting black pilots, said in a February interview.
In a landmark report published in 1999 by the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness titled “Career Progression in Minority and Women Officers” (the last time the topic has been addressed by the Defense Department), a section on aviation says, “of all minorities, the representation of blacks has remained stubbornly low over the last 15 years.”
Selection and training
Once blacks who want to be military aviators make it into college, the manner in which the military identifies, recruits, selects and trains its pilots might be a significant barrier to the stated goal of increasing the black flying cadre, the 1999 report said.
The services draw their pilot candidates from several different sources, including the “Big Three pipelines,” as Johnson called them.
Those pipelines are the service academies; Reserve Officer Training Corps, or ROTC, programs at mainstream colleges and universities; and direct commissioning via the officer training schools.
For both ROTC and academy students, the military selection process for flight school begins in the senior year of college, when selection boards take into account academic performance, leadership, faculty recommendations and extracurricular activities.
Students also take a battery of service-specific aviator tests.
The number of flight school slots available in any given year varies, depending on the needs of the services at the time.
Each college or university is allocated a limited number of slots for pilot trainees, Gen. Johnson said, “So even though [candidates are] qualified, they may not be able to go.”
Richard Jones saw that happen to 12 of his best black friends in 2001, during his senior year at Grambling State University in Louisiana (Grambling is part of America’s network of almost 100 formally designated Historically Black Colleges and Universities).
All 13 friends sent their applications to the Air Force’s pilot selection board, but only Jones was accepted to pilot training.
Moral of the story? Only a segregated unit would have allowed all of those 13 Black ROTC cadets from Grambling a shot at flying. They can’t compete with white pilots otherwise.
That’s the reason that we must continue to have the Tuskegee Airmen rammed down our throats because only segregated pilot-training could have allowed this story to transpire.
Just as Black men aren’t equipped to compete with white men when it comes to being part of US Special Forces, Black men can’t compete in an integrated Air Force.
Funny, in the 1960 and 1970s, the United States Air Force created a special Black pilot training program that didn’t have the same – exaggerated – results of the real Tuskegee Experiment:
Remembering the struggles they went through to earn their wings, Hank Taylor and about a dozen mostly retired black pilots on Saturday walked around the old Reese Air Force Base.
Nearly 40 years ago, these men were in the midst of a civil rights-era struggle for racial equality in the air.
“We’re sort of on the heels of the Tuskegee Airman,” Taylor said, alluding to the all-black World War II air-combat unit based in Tuskegee, Ala.
In the 1960s and ’70s, Reese was one of several bases where the United States Air Force launched a black pilot training program. Taylor, a 1971 graduate of the program, said the Air Force started it to curb failure or “wash-out” rates that were twice as high among black students – about 50 percent – compared to white students. To do this, the Air Force grouped black students at several bases and slowly recruited more black instructor pilots to help level the playing field during the highly subjective, yearlong assessment process.
Off they don’t go into the wild blue yonder. A 50 percent wash-out once the military had integrated? What was the wash-out rate for the all-Black Tuskegee Airmen?
Otherwise, there would be more Black pilots.
The Washington Times published an article on the lack of Black pilots ( Pentagon Studies, Finds no Reason for Lack of Black Pilots , May 7, 1996) that shows the problem still vexes the Pentagon:
Blacks continue to be underrepresented among the military’s aviation officer corps, and thePentagon, after a lot of study, doesn’t know why, a top official said yesterday.
Edwin Dorn, the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said the services have spent much time analyzing whyblacksmake up only 2.1 percent of the 10,000 fixed-wing aircraftpilotsin the Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, while accounting for 7.4 percent of all 218,000 officers in those services.
“I don’t think we came up with a very good answer, quite frankly,” Mr. Dorn told a conference of scholars and military officers sponsored by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. He said the armed forces’blacksalso lag in representation in special forces units and in civilian management posts.
Alan Gropman, a history professor at the Industrial College
“American education is not providing the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines with enoughblackcandidates forpilottraining,” Mr. Gropman, a former Air Force navigator who flew on 650 combat missions in Vietnam, said in an interview.
He said the service academies like to draw from a group of high-school seniors who have at least a 3.5 grade-point average, a 1,100 score on the Scholastic Assessment Tests and a letter of recommendation, and who have participated in two or more extracurricular activities.
Of 150,000 such students last year, 135,000 were white and 1,190 wereblack, Mr. Gropman said.
Noting the low ratio ofblackpilotsin the Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, an aide to Mr. Dorn said, “It’s not going up the same way the other occupations have gone up.”
What occupations are going up in the military? Definitely not in those positions that put Americans in harm’s way in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, where Stars and Stripes recently lamented t hat only white men are earning honor and valor on the battlefield.
Of course, we could always institute massive affirmative action schemes as the South African government did in the vain attempt at de-whitening the Air Force there:
The South African Air Force (SAAF) has a morale problem. The government has been trying to integrate previously all white institutions. This has been most difficult in areas that require lots of technical training and education. Like pilots. The government has set a racial goal for SAAF pilots, and wants them to be 75 percent black and 25 percent white. Currently, it is 19 percent black and 81 percent white. The morale problem arose when, recently, three top rated graduates of pilot training school, who would normally go on to fly fighters, were told that, because they were white, they would instead fly helicopters or transports.
So the ANC government hoped to re-create the Tuskegee Airmen down in the Cape of Good Hope? How’d that work out? Well, the previous article was published in 2006. This one, was in 2009:
This year, the South African Air Force stopped automatically releasing data on how many hours combat pilots flew for training. When the numbers were finally obtained, it was discovered that in the last year, fighter pilots were in the air for 325 hours (less than two hours a month per pilot). In contrast, pilots on VIP flights (carrying politicians and government officials) were up there 1,932 hours. There are about fifty transports, and 80 helicopters in the air force.
But there’s more going on. First, the air force only has twenty fighter pilots, and only nine fighters. In the next three years, 26 Swedish Gripen fighters are being delivered. Nine are already on hand. Last year, the last of the 66 Cheetah fighters (rebuilt French Mirage IIIs) were retired.Last year, the last full year that Cheetahs were operational, fighter pilots got 2,084 hours in the air. The year before that, 2,448 hours. It’s believed that only six of the twenty fighter pilots are competent to handle their aircraft in combat. Most competent pilots have left the air force because of the lack of flying hours. Many of the pilots remaining got in under a quota system that attempts to add more racial diversity to the air force.
Not surprisingly, many South Africans believe that the South African Air Force (SAAF) is falling apart. The most obvious aspect of this is the decrepit state of aging buildings, runways and aircraft. But the biggest problem is getting, and keeping, technical people. This is complicated by a government program to integrate previously all white institutions. This has been most difficult in areas that require lots of technical training and education. Like pilots and aircraft maintainers.
The government has set a racial goal for SAAF pilots, and wants them to be 75 percent black and 25 percent white. Currently, it is still over 50 percent white.
Looks like the goal of finding qualified Black pilots in South Africa is still somewhere over the rainbow…
Knowing that Black-Run America (BRA) is still followed to a “T” in the United States Military, we could one day see a policy similar to that of South Africa instituted at the Air Force Academy and ROTC programs across the nation.
But we must state this simple fact: The Tuskegee Airmen story – which George Lucas personally funded re-telling in his Red Tails film – could have only transpired thanks to the military being segregated.
So, if you go see Red Tails and you wonder what the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen really is and why we must continually read and hear about this lone Black unit, understand that the integration of the military completely clipped the wings of future Black pilots before they got the chance to be trained to fly.
They just can’t compete with white (or non-Black) pilots.
Know this: we at SBPDL do not endorse segregation. We believe in merit, which is anathema to the governing apparatus known as BRA.
So, there’s the truth about why we must continually be bombarded with tales of the Tuskegee Airmen’s aerial success. One, since the Tuskegee Airmen defied stereotypes and were able to fly planes successfully, then only racism can be blamed for the lack of Black pilots now. Right?
In integrated units, Black pilots have no chance. Just ask Black firefighters and Black police officers how they got their jobs. Entrance exams had to be lowered to accomodate low scoring Black applicants.
So, the Red Tails movie will inspire millions, and lead to Black kids channeling their inner Luke Skywalker and joining the ROTC or applying to the Air Force Academy, right? Too bad the proficiency of your average Black high school student is abysmal now.
The pinnacle of Black aviation achievement has been achieved. Roads all around the country will be renamed in honor of the Tuskegee Airmen, a unit that could only exist under the pretenses of segregation.
If you go see Red Tails to honor the airmen, know you go to actually honor segregation.
So, the Tuskegee Airmen didn’t win the war in Europe for us; primarily, they escorted bombers and encountered opposition from a completely decimated Luftwaffe relying on new teenage recruits to protect the imploding Third Reich.
What they do represent is the apex of what segregation could provide (and only sports can do now): actual positive role models for the Black community.