Last week, 16 West Point women posed for their Old Corps photograph—a time-honored tradition at the military academy where cadets pose for vintage-style photographs on the steps of the school’s oldest barrack—and dared to raise their fists in a gesture of solidarity. The women, all black, drew the ire of John Burk, a fitspo blogger who also has opinions about Black Lives Matter and calls himself “Solider of Steel.”
Burk, apparently bored with his burpees, wrote a blog post titled “Racism from Within,” where he accused the 16 women of violating Department of Defense Directive 1344.10, a jargon-laden directive that effectively says that active duty members should think long and hard before presenting political opinions while in uniform.
Great, good, but where’s the problem in this photograph? According to Burk, the women engaged in political speech by raising their fists—something about Black Lives Matter and reverse racism and agendas; frankly the specifics aren’t worth recounting. The women in the photograph, however, said the photograph was one of three and was simply intended to “showcase the awesome black women in our class.”
“Are these the type of ‘leaders’ you want moving down to the line and leading your sons and daughters, graduates with an agenda?”
West Point decided that the clearly rhetorical question needed an answer and, on April 28, launched an investigation into whether or not the women violated Army rules that prohibit political gestures while in uniform. On Tuesday, the Army inquiry concluded and found that the women intended to demonstrate “unity, solidarity and pride,” and while their actions were “inappropriate,” they did not violate regulations.
In a letter to students, Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen Jr., West Point’s superintendent, agreed that the women should not face disciplinary action, but still managed to tsk-tsk about the photograph:
“As members of the Profession of Arms, we are held to a high standard, where our actions are constantly observed and scrutinized in the public domain. We all must understand that a symbol or gesture that one group of people may find harmless may offend others. As Army officers, we are not afforded the luxury of a lack of awareness of how we are perceived.”
The New York Times notes that many West Point graduates defended the women, arguing that raised fists are part “of chants at football games and other celebrations” where the are held “without scrutiny.” In response, General Caslen said, “The time, place and manner of a symbol can also hold significant meaning and influence perception.” West Point is 80 percent male and 70 percent white.