Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Mo.

Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Mo. Bill Clark / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

One more hold: USAF colonel who urged conversations about racism

Missouri senator blocks promotion of author of “Dear white colonels” oped.

A U.S. senator is stalling the promotion of an Air Force colonel who urged his peers to talk about racism and its effects on the military. 

In a 2020 oped, Air Force Col. Benjamin Jonsson described how his white colleagues would rather change the subject. 

Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Mo., who placed the hold on Jonsson, said he disapproves of the military’s diversity-equity-inclusion programs. 

“It is long past time to root out divisive DEI policies and their advocates from our apolitical military. Leaders must emphasize unity of mission and purpose, not our immutable differences if we are to maintain our military as the greatest meritocracy in the world. I cannot in good faith allow the confirmation of individuals who advance this divisive DEI ideology,” Schmitt said in a statement.

Schmitt had been blocking the promotions of six officers for their views on DEI policies, but has relinquished the hold on all of them except Jonsson. The other five were cleared last week in the Senate. (His blockade is separate from Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s 10-month hold, now lifted, that kept more than 400 senior officers in limbo in protest of the Pentagon’s abortion policy.)

Jonsson’s oped was published by Air Force Times just weeks after George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis, touching off protests and conversations across the nation. In it, he called on his peers to acknowledge institutional racism. 

In the piece, titled “Dear white colonel…we must address our blind spots around race,” Jonsson recounted several episodes in which fellow Air Force colonels had avoided talking about the subject. 

“As white colonels, you and I are the biggest barriers to change if we do not personally address racial injustice in our Air Force. Defensiveness is a predictable response by white people to any discussion of racial injustice. White colonels are no exception. We are largely blind to institutional racism, and we take offense to any suggestion that our system advantaged us at the expense of others,” Jonsson wrote. 

The Senate left for holiday recess on Wednesday, meaning the Pentagon will have to renominate Jonsson next year.