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Being Black, Being Green

March 01, 2011 | Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin Grimes

 

With Black History Month ending in a matter of hours, I realized it's long overdue I added my two cents.

I spent a long time growing up avoiding the issue of race. If I'm going to be honest with you – and with myself – I have to admit that I did everything I could to avoid examining who I am. (I think that my choice to become a part of the Army was part of that avoidance, but I'll get to that later.) Nonetheless, I hope, and I believe, that the last few years have begun to change that.

I grew up with three siblings, raised by a single mother. She'd divorced my father when I was 3 or 4, and for her it was definitely the right thing to do. We didn't have much interaction with him as I grew up – he spent time in and out of jail, dealing with a heroin addition he'd picked up in Vietnam, mental illness, and the effect those things had on his behavior. My father died when I was about 14. He was Black. My mother is White.

What I remember about my father, though, is not understanding him. It wasn't until much later that I started to sort through that confusion and realize that what I most needed to understand was why he didn't act like a father to me. I think that scared me; made me afraid of that part of me that he'd contributed. So I avoided it as much as I could. My friends were (mostly) White. I avoided gatherings with my father's family. And I avoided thinking about being Black. I didn't know who I was or how I was supposed to define myself.

The Army gave me the time and space to sort all that out at a much slower pace. I left high school and went straight to West Point. Individuality there is an afterthought for most new cadets; there just isn't time to think about who you are or want to be, you just have to be the cadet everyone demands. It's actually pretty easy. Over your four years at the Academy, you get a chance to grow and develop, but there is always a structure, and expectation, and a history, that helps define who you are.

Even after graduating, the nature of the Army – its hierarchies, even its uniform – helped to shield me from examining who I am. But that same isolation and imposed identity gave my personal journey the space to unfold without a rush and without any forced, outside influences. I'm still sorting out what the yin and yang of my parents mean when brought together in me, but over the last few years I've at least felt more natural in my skin. I'm a lot Black. I'm a lot White. And, and least for now, I'm green all over.


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