Moms of Color in the Military, We See You and We Love You

I spent 5 years in the U.S. Navy. Throughout that time, I faced some of the most challenging experiences of my life. I was also welcomed by a system of support, especially from black and brown folk and women.

I was in the service when I first heard the term “Black Girl Magic.” At the time, it perfectly summed up what I recognized about the caliber, resiliency, and strength of Black and Brown women. Years later, I accept the term as a way to affirm our excellence, wealth of character, and challenge stereotypes, despite finding it problematic–just because I think it can perpetuate the idea that Black women are more than human and therefore can live through anything, without fully considering societal, political, and social factors that affect our experiences.

I unpack all this to say that fellow women Sailors and mothers immediately come to mind when I think about “Black Girl Magic.”.

In every billet I had in the Navy, Black and Brown women were doing the damn thing. Experts in departments. Go-to individuals in the Command. Authorities on technical matters. Committed to professional development. Yes, there’s the camaraderie we have with other Sailors (that’s just a natural part of being in the military). But, regardless of rate or rank, I knew I could always depend on women of color to uplift, motivate, and encourage me through highs, lows, and everything in-between.

Yes, we are excellent. The fact of the matter is that this excellence is apparent despite certain factors that can implicitly (and sometimes even explicitly) make it harder for women and mothers to excel in the military. 

The Navy is kind of a microcosm of society. On one hand, I would argue that it is increasingly diverse. It’s one of the few fields that has transparency of pay-scales, guaranteed paid maternity leave, paternity leave, and a clear advancement path. 

On the other hand, there are disparities among black and brown folks serving as enlisted versus serving as officers, as well as issues regarding robust mental health, gender identity, and sexual harassment and assault reporting policies. 

Don’t get me wrong–I appreciate what I have learned from serving in the Navy, and the opportunities it has afforded me. But why is it that officer communities do not reflect enlisted communities when it comes to race and ethnicity? When it is clear that the skills and leadership are there? Efforts are being made to recognize, understand, and propose solutions to support equity for all people in the military. But as a historically complex, male-dominated institution, being a woman in the military, a woman of color in the military, and even more-so a mom of color in the military can present even more obstacles to navigate and overcome.

I just want to share with the women and mothers who faced and overcame their obstacles with determination and grace, you inspired me. You continue to inspire me.

You are seen.

You embody sacrifice.

You are the backbone of your family.

You personify leadership.

You propel others to greater heights.

You develop cultural flexibility in your workplace.

You foster cultural flexibility within your household.

You’ve made it through things you never thought you would.

You motivate others to emulate your success.

We See You.

We Love You.

Thank You.

-Yvonne Payne

Yvonne is a Navy veteran turned full-time graduate student who just wanted a not-long-distance boyfriend. Such is life. She is a mama to the love of her life and lives in San Diego, CA, where she diagnoses baby poop, attempts to train her dog who hates other dogs, works part-time, and writes for her blog, Stunning Single Mama. If you’d like to check it out, you can do so here and follow her on Instagram!

4 Comments

  1. Cristina Petrini

    Personally, I struggle as a person to be able to distinguish between races or orientations … I judge people by their character and way of behaving and nothing more. So come on, have courage and go on like this!

    1. Yvonne

      Hi Cristina 👋🏾

      Thank you for your feedback. I too think it’s important to judge people by their character. I also think it can be incredibly useful to believe the experiences other people share about themselves, particularly if they belong to a group we may not be familiar with. Because even though we may think a certain way, not everyone does and people of color are still disproportionately impacted by institutional, political and social factors. But yes, I definitely hope that one day this is a world where individuals are perceived, assessed, and affected by their character and nothing more!

  2. cheyenne

    Thank you for your service !:)

    1. Yvonne

      Of course. Thank you!

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