June 19, 2020

Statement From Truman President and CEO Jenna-Ben Yehuda On Juneteenth Racial Equity and Truman

Statement From Truman President and CEO Jenna-Ben Yehuda On Juneteenth Racial Equity and Truman

Washington DC -- We’ve said so before, and we will again until it isn’t any longer: racism is a national security issue. And dismantling systemic racism is -- if we rise to meet it -- the reckoning of our time.

There may be no better day than today to make a public commitment to that fight. Juneteenth, though relatively little-known in many communities, has been celebrated by Black American communities since this day in 1865, when the Union Army at last brought word of the Emancipation Proclamation to Texas, making that state’s citizens the last in the nation to be freed---a full two and a half years after the Proclamation was signed.

A century and a half later, the wounds and scars of slavery are still with us. Both at home and around the world, much work remains to be done. We will not shirk the obligation. Today of all days, that work requires listening, and centering the voices of those who’ve lived the enduring burdens, and fought to end them. We’re proud to defer to these Truman member voices, a small but representative sampling of the diverse talent amongst our ranks.

Lauryn Williams, Washington, D.C. Chapter, 2020 Security Fellow

“As a black woman, race has long influenced my views on ‘national security.’ For me, the effect of race and racism in the field is obvious. It looks like important decisions being made in rooms where the voices of black people and other people of color are not represented. Or if we are, we are the ‘only one.’ It looks like a field that has long focused more on advancing American values outside of America’s borders, than the deep problems here at home, specifically systemic racism dating from slavery, which we commemorate on Juneteenth. Personally, I believe that when the national security field starts to look inward, and truly represents the full diversity of backgrounds and opinions in this country, we will see better policy outcomes. There is so much work to do – actions, not just words and statements – but the possibility of this future gives me hope."

Daniel White, New York Chapter, 2020 Security Fellow

“When I think of racism and its impact I consider its effects in two ways. On one hand, I consider being subject to racism in an organization harmful personally and organizationally as homogenous teams often fall prey to group-think which can be a recipe for disaster, especially when it comes to foreign policy deliberations. Common blindspots because of a lack of diverse experiences and perspectives doesn't account for the true complexity of world affairs. Secondly, experiencing racism necessitates a broadening definition of what security means. It is extended to citizens right here at home with their interactions with the government and fellow citizens in order to access resources, services, and upward mobility to accomplish the American dream. Security, at an individual level, is at risk when racism manifests itself in affirmative ways that negates opportunities for individuals to serve, robbing the country of a most-valued resource, people.”

Camille Stewart, San Francisco Chapter, 2017 Security Fellow

"Systemic racism is recognizing that leading up to the 2016 election Russia targeted communities of color, especially Black Americans, but not comprehensively addressing this targeting and its root causes in strategies to combat disinformation. Systemic racism is knowing that Black Americans have been targeted by countries like Iran for decades but not addressing the social and societal imbalances that make them a susceptible ear.  Systemic racism is often being the only one as I move through this space. Racism is being physically closed out of conversations. Racism is being assumed to be a junior staffer, intern, or the admin. Systemic racism is ignoring that racism is a national security threat. My view of security is colored by knowing that my struggle, and the struggle of my community, is often erased, rarely named, but ALWAYS important. Unless and until we realize that the lived experiences of all Americans is integral to our success or failure, we will never reach our full potential or live up to the ideals of our Founding Fathers."

Muhammad Fraser-Rahim, Washington, D.C. Chapter, 2017 Security Fellow

“Black history is American history. Listening, reflecting and contemplating on the collective story of our complex and difficult story of people of African descent isn't always easy (for blacks and others alike), as it demonstrates pain and suffering, but through the difficulty, ease comes and makes our future even brighter.”

Dr. Michael Owens, Atlanta Chapter, 2016 Political Partner

“The color of my skin should not make me less secure in my own country that I have fought to defend. Institutional racism continues to put an unnecessary strain on our country's national security. The color of my skin should not make me a target. I've fought to defend a country that still doesn't defend me simply because of the color of my skin. I come from a long line of Marines, soldiers and sailors who have fought to defend freedoms that we still don't have at home. My life, liberty or the pursuit of my happiness should not depend on the complexion of my skin.”

In past years, we’ve taken strides to be anti-racist ourselves, diversifying our Board of Directors, eliminating unpaid internships, and publishing salary ranges for job openings. We were proud to put our name to the "Solidarity Statement by Organizations and Individuals Against Racism and Discrimination" organized by Women of Color Advancing Peace and Security just last week. We are committed to bringing a racial equity lens to our work. Listening to these members and many others, and reflecting on the standard to which we aspire, we know we can do more. We’re here to listen, to stand beside them, and to fight for the ideals we all believe in, and that many of us swore to protect and defend. We know you are, too.

Today, our staff will mark Juneteenth by dedicating ourselves to a day of learning and conversation. There’s more to be done. We’re on the path.

We’ll see you on the journey.

Jenna Ben-Yehuda
President and CEO
Truman Center for National Policy & Truman National Security Project