A false narrative was put forth by a black cadet at the Air Force Academy’s Preparatory School in Colorado when he wrote the words “go home” and an accompanying racial slur on a whiteboard outside his dorm room and then blamed others.
“If you’re outraged by those words, then you’re in the right place,” Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria told the class of 4,000 cadets after the offensive message was discovered. At the time, it looked as though the five black cadets who lived there were being targeted.
“That kind of behavior has no place in the prep school, it has no place at USAFA and it has no place in the United States Air Force. You should be outraged not only as an airman, but as a human being. And I’ll tell you that the appropriate response for horrible language and horrible ideas … the appropriate response is a better idea. So, that’s why I’m here.”
Silveria’s passionate message went viral, but it turns out that it was actually one of the black members of the class who wrote the message himself and then claimed to be a target of bigotry.
Silveria still reiterated the need to address racism, despite the fact that the incident was orchestrated by the “victims” themselves.
“Regardless of the circumstances under which those words were written, they were written, and that deserved to be addressed,” Silveria told the Colorado Springs Gazette in an email. “You can never overemphasize the need for a culture of dignity and respect — and those who don’t understand those concepts, aren’t welcome here.”
The cadet candidate, who has not been identified, is no longer enrolled, although it’s unclear whether he was expelled or withdrew from the academy. According to the Gazette’s report, the cadet wrote the offensive words in a misguided attempt to get out of unspecified consequences for unrelated misconduct at the prep school.
“We can confirm that one of the cadet candidates who was allegedly targeted by racist remarks written outside of their dorm room was actually responsible for the act,” academy spokesman Lt. Col. Allen Herritage told the newspaper in an email. “The individual admitted responsibility and this was validated by the investigation.”
Herritage noted that racism “has no place” at the academy.
“We will continue to create a climate of dignity and respect for all, encourage ideas that do so, and hold those who fail to uphold these standards accountable,” Herritage’s email continued.
Silveria’s frank, emotional message to cadets in late September made national headlines, and the video of the speech has been viewed online more than 1 million times. At one point, Silveria urged cadets to take out their phones to record his words.
“If you can’t treat someone with dignity and respect, then you need to get out. If you demean someone in any way, then you need to get out. And if you can’t treat someone from another race or a different color skin with dignity and respect, then you need to get out.”