Last week, the U.S. Senate took a historic step: It confirmed Charles Q. Brown Jr. as Air Force chief of staff, making him the first black officer to lead one of America’s major military branches.
It would be wrong to celebrate Brown’s appointment as a sort of counterbalance to the injustices sparking demonstrations around the country. We cannot point to the achievements of some African Americans as a way to deny the injustice faced by all African Americans. To do so would be a tone-deaf misunderstanding of the long-lingering effects of what has been called America’s original sin. Too many were quick to use that line of reasoning after the election of President Barack Obama.
But it would also be wrong not to celebrate this occasion, because it does represent progress. It is a milestone on a march in the right direction toward greater equality where everyone, regardless of race, is free to succeed and empowered to do so.
Brown was born in San Antonio and graduated from Texas Tech. He has served as commander or deputy commander at multiple high-level posts, including the Pacific Air Forces, the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, the Pacific Air Combat Operations Staff and the U.S. Central Command. He has earned his success, and we applaud President Donald Trump for appointing him and the Senate for confirming him.
We also might go further, to note our appreciation for Brown’s perspective on this historic occasion. In a powerful and personal video he made for those under his command, the general spoke with honesty and candor about “a history of racial issues and my own experiences that didn’t always sing of liberty and equality.”
Brown said: “I can’t fix centuries of racism in our country, nor can I fix decades of discrimination that may have impacted members of our Air Force. I’m thinking about how I can make improvements — personally, professionally and institutionally — so that all airmen, both today and tomorrow, appreciate the value of diversity in a conservative environment where they can reach their full potential. I’m thinking I don’t have all the answers on how to create such an environment. ... I’m thinking about, without clear-cut answers, I just want to have the wisdom and knowledge to lead during difficult times like these. I want the wisdom and knowledge to lead, participate in and listen to necessary conversations on racism, diversity and inclusion. I want the wisdom and knowledge to lead those willing to take committed and sustained action to make our Air Force better.”
Those words grow out of a model the rest of our nation would do well to follow: practice empathy, embrace honesty, fight injustice, do what you can to make the country better. In. Brown, we see patriotism mixed with realism, strength mixed with humility, wisdom mixed with resolve. It should be clear that, with Brown, the Air Force is in good hands and that others might gain something from considering the wisdom in his words.