A survey of employees at Veterans Affairs has revealed that nearly 80 percent of them believe that racism is a serious and widespread problem within the government agency.
The nationwide survey of 1,500 workers at the VA was conducted by the American Federation of Government Employees last month, reports the Washington Post.
An example of the racism that workers at a VA center in Kansas City, Missouri just this June—even as an uprising for racial justice was rippling across the country—underscores the survey’s findings that racism is all over the organization.
From the Washington Post:
At an event to mark Juneteenth, a holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States, Black employees became “living display” pieces, performing as Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman and Floyd, according to two medical center staffers and internal emails obtained by The Post.
One staffer, speaking on the condition of anonymity over a fear of retaliation, told The Post they were urged by senior leaders at the medical center to dress as their characters in period clothing and that one supervisor, who is White, suggested in a conference call that they serve watermelon and fried chicken during the event. The supervisor later apologized, the staffer said.
Employees at the Kansas City VA Medical Center have filed over a hundred complaints with their local NAACP chapter for that incident, though a spokesperson for the center has denied that racist discrimination is an issue there and said the event was voluntary.
Workers at that VA center also report hearing their white colleagues use the n-word on the job—including an employee who said it on a conference call while apparently thinking he was on mute.
Employees at other VA locations across the country say they experience barriers to advancing at work because of their race.
Nuwanna Franklin, an army veteran and union representative for Carl Vinson VA Medical Center in Georgia told the Washington Post that Black workers fear retaliation if they complain about experiencing discrimination in the VA as they aren’t well-represented in positions of leadership.
“The higher it goes, the whiter it goes,” Franklin said.
About 12.3 percent of White employees at the VA are represented in leadership roles, while only 3.8 percent of the agency’s Black workers are.
More than half of the survey respondents said they have also witnessed racist discrimination against Black veterans seeking services from the VA.