Almost 80% of employees at Veterans Affairs believe racism is a serious and wide-ranging issue at the agency.
According to The Root, a nationwide survey of 1,500 workers at Veterans Affairs was conducted by the American Federation of Government Employees last month. Workers at Veterans Affairs reported hearing their white colleagues’ widespread use of the N-word on the job. Including one employee who said it on a conference call while thinking he was on mute.
Other Veterans Affairs employees across the country have reported experiencing barriers to advancement at work because of their race. Nuwanna Franklin, an Army veteran and union representative for the Carl Vinson Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Georgia, told The Washington Post Black workers fear retaliation for complaining about discrimination and racism because they aren’t represented in positions of power.
“The higher it goes, the whiter it goes,” Franklin told the Post.
Around 12.3% of White employees at the VA are represented in leadership roles, while only 3.8 % of the agency’s Black workers are in leadership positions.
An example of the racism that is rampant at a Veterans Affairs center in Kansas City, Missouri, was reported by The Washington Post in June.
At an event to mark Juneteenth, Black employees became “living display” pieces, performing as Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman, and others, according to two medical center staffers and internal emails obtained by the Post.
A staffer told the Post workers were urged by senior staff members at the medical center to dress as their characters in period clothing and the same day, a supervisor suggested in a conference call the hospital serve fried chicken and watermelon. The staffer did say the supervisor apologized later in the day.
Also, more than half of survey respondents said they have also witnessed racist discrimination against Black veterans seeking services from the VA.
AFGE National President Everett Kelley said on a press call the agency must do better.
“It’s shocking that in 2020, not only are we still having to contend with racism at an agency of the federal government, but that it’s getting worse” AFGE National President Everett Kelley said. “These survey results are shocking and unacceptable and must be addressed. Fighting systemic racism at the VA or any other federal agency is nothing new for AFGE. In fact, it’s been a central part of what we’ve always done, always had to do, because, of course, there is absolutely nothing new about racism.” He adds, “We’re fighting these battles on the national, district, and local levels. We fight them every single day.”