Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday, the top officer in the U.S. Navy, defended his decision before Congress on Tuesday to include a racially charged book on the Navy’s official reading list. That list, Gilday said, has come under fire as “woke.”
Gilday responded to questions from Republican lawmakers about the book “How to Be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi, during his Tuesday testimony before the House Armed Services Committee. Lawmakers had written letters to Gilday earlier this year expressing their concerns about the inclusion of Kendi’s book on the service’s official reading list. Ultimately, Gilday chose to keep the book on the reading list despite their concerns.
On Tuesday, Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO), one of the lawmakers who previously wrote to Gilday, said Kendi’s book argues “that the entire American system is corrupted from top to bottom by racial prejudices, which account for all differences in outcomes in our society and one sentence out of that book says ‘the only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination, the only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.”
Lanborn asked Gilday, “How does exposing our sailors to the idea that they are either oppressors or oppressed and that we must actively discriminate to make up for past discrimination improve our Navy’s readiness and lethality?”
Gilday responded, “There is racism in the Navy just like there’s racism in our country, and the way we’re going to get after it is to be honest about it, not to sweep it under the rug, and talk about it.”
“It doesn’t mean I have any expectation that everybody believe, or support, everything that Mr. Kendi states in his book,” Gilday added. “I don’t support everything that Kendi says. The key thing is that sailors have to be able to think critically.”
Lamborn said he agrees that the Navy should be able to address racism and uproot it, but asked, “Should we have future discrimination? You don’t endorse that particular statement do you?”
Gilday said he would have to look at the context of Kendi’s calls for future discrimination. Gilday said, “I’m not trying to be evasive but I don’t support everything that Kendi asserts” adding, “everybody has to be in a position to weigh fact from fiction.”
Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN), an active officer in the Navy Reserve who deployed in Afghanistan in 2014 and 2015, continued the line of questioning regarding Gilday’s decision to include Kendi’s book on the official Navy reading list.
Banks, another one of the lawmakers who wrote to Gilday earlier this year, noted the Navy recently completed a one-day standdown to address extremist ideologies “that go against our oath to the Constitution.”
“In my view, Kendi has espoused extremist beliefs that clearly violate the oath to the constitution that I took when I served in the Navy,” Banks said. “Ibram Kendi, by the way, labeled [U.S. Supreme Court Justice] Amy Coney Barrett a ‘white colonizer’ and criticized her for ‘cutting the biological parents of these children out’ because she adopted two children from Haiti. Yes or no admiral, do you personally consider opposition to interracial adoption an extremist belief?”
Gilday’s answer to that question was not heard because his mic was turned off as he answered, but Banks continued his line of questioning.
“Kendi’s book state’s that capitalism is essentially racist and Kendi is clear that racism must be eliminated, so yes or no, do you personally consider advocating for the destruction of American capitalism to be extremist?” Banks asked.
Gilday began his response by saying “here’s what I know congressman, there’s racism in the United States Navy.”
“It’s a yes or no question,” Banks interjected. “You recommended every sailor in the United States Navy read this book. It’s a yes or no question.”
Gilday responded that the book isn’t mandatory and is only a “recommended reading list.”
“Admiral, did you read the book?” Banks asked.
Gilday responded that he did.
Without an answer to his question about whether Gilday views Kendi’s opposition to capitalism as an extremist view, Banks continued his line of questioning.
“In college, Kendi stated that white people are a different breed of humans and are responsible for the AIDs virus,” Banks said. “Yes or no, do you personally believe the conspiracy that white people started AIDs to be an extremist belief.”
Gilday again said he would have to consider the context of Kendi’s statements on the matter and said, “I’m not going to sit here and defend cherry-picked quotes from somebody’s book.”
“This is a bigger issue than Kendi’s book, what this is really about is trying to paint the United States military, and the United States Navy as weak, as woke,” Gilday said. “And we’ve had sailors that spent 341 days at sea last year with minimal port visits, the longest we’ve had. We are not weak, we are strong.”
Banks asked, “If sailors accept Kendi’s argument that America and the United States Navy are fundamentally racist as you’ve encouraged them to do, do you expect that to increase or decrease morale and cohesion?”
Gilday responded, “Our strength is in our diversity, and our sailors understand that. Racism in the United States is a very complex issue. What we benefit from is an open discussion about those issues.”
“There will be various views, and I trust sailors will come to an understanding of hopefully separating fact from fiction, agreeing or disagreeing with Kendi in this case, and come to hopefully very useful conclusions,” Gilday continued.