“Are you ashamed of me, because I’m an Officer?” The question caught me off-guard. My heart sank. I just finished telling my husband about the wonderful posts on the Black Military Wives Facebook page, where many wives were celebrating their husbands’ promotions.
“What?! I’m very proud of you!” He smirked at my claim, and said, “So, when I get pinned on, will you announce it on the B.M.W. page, like the other wives who are proud of their spouses?”
Uh-oh. Lol. I swear that I’ve never been ashamed of my husband’s status, and he KNOWS this! But see, there’s an interesting dichotomy for the life of a Black Officer’s wife (BOW)–when she’s also Black. The topic of being a Black woman who is married to an Officer is NOT so black or white. For Black women, the topic is gray–very gray! I’ve been stuck in this gray area for more than 11 years.
The desire to connect with other Black women can sometimes go unfulfilled, for people who let “ranks” get in the way. Some Officers’ wives are judged harshly, even without directly ever offending anyone. The irony of the harsh judgment for Black women is that many of our Black Officer spouses, were once Enlisted! So, some of these now presumed “snobby Officers’ wives” were actually also “Enlisted wives” once upon a time. Not all, but many. The “crossover” alone, gives these wives a unique perspective once entering the Officers’ Wives Clubs. We generally don’t mesh well with other Officers’ wives, so most of us understand the stereotype. But what happens when we, as Black women, have that same stereotype placed upon us?
Regardless of the rank of our spouses, when we see another Black woman in Sasebo or San Diego, most of us get excited! We don’t care about rank–we care about sisterhood. When we (BOWs) do enter that circle, it can be very awkward because we’re often alone. At spouse meetings, it isn’t uncommon to be the only one. As for me, although I treated everyone kindly, some of the racial remarks or innuendos were so off-putting, that I decided to no longer socialize with those particular women at this base. At command functions, sitting at tables where no other wives resemble me, gets quite lonely too. Very lonely. Sure, I converse with all spouses, but I undeniably glance over at the other tables that seem to welcome more melanin. I find myself smiling every time I make eye contact with another woman–a sista, that is! You know how brothas seem to always give the “friendly head nod” when they pass each other? Well, I also give the “Hey Sista-girl” smile whenever I see another Black woman. Sometimes, the smiles are returned… and sometimes, I receive glares.
As I continue to smile at other Black women at integrated functions (a Christmas party, for example), I secretly hope that no one passes any harsh judgments or presumptions about how I “wear her husband’s rank” or “look down on other spouses,” because I’m an Officer’s wife. It is what it is at these events; there’s separation amongst the ranks in this atmosphere by seating arrangements. But still, in my heart I believe that I would feel more “at home” at the tables with more melanin. I could possibly laugh at the same jokes, shake my head at the same disorderly kids, or even roll my eyes at the same obnoxious comments. Of course, I can’t be sure that I would connect with other women simply because they’re Black, but I would love to at least find out at some of these affairs. There’s a common bond that’s generally shared between Black women, and on many occasions, I longed for that bond.
So many Officers’ wives are thrown into a gigantic, negative box: “She’s won’t hangout with the wives of Enlisted members, because she believes that she’s better than us.” It’s no wonder that with a statement like this, a Black military wife might be more likely to conceal her spouse’s rank if he’s an Officer, to other sisters. When meeting other Black women, she might also overcompensate for his status by proving to her fellow sisters, that she’s still down-to-earth!
While my husband jokingly questioned if I were “ashamed of him,” other wives might accuse me of being “defined by him.” At the mere mention that my husband is an Officer, assumptions might get formed. I’ve been present during countless conversations of “Officers’ Wives Bashing.” What did I do, one might ask? Well, sometimes, I chimed in and said, “But wait, not all of us are like that….” and at other times, I just remained in the “Officers’ Wives Closet.” We, Black wives of Officers, are actually complimented for NOT disclosing that our husbands are Officers. We’re applauded for “staying in the closet!” Oh yes, there is such a thing as being in the closet! When I married my husband, I was naïve. People often asked, “What is your husband’s rate?” and I had no idea what that meant. You see, Officers don’t have “rates.” But, no one ever assumed that my husband could be an Officer as a Black man, so they wanted to know his “rate.” Well, once understanding the question, I would truthfully answer, “He’s Surface Warfare Officer (SWO).” The next question was often, “Is he Black?” Eventually, I found myself in the closet–the Officers’ wives closet! Scared of being outted, for fear of losing some of my military-affiliated friends, I avoided the topic like it was the plague. I would listen to the horrible name calling and wife bashing of Officers’ wives, and feel like an imposter. If I dared mention that my husband was an Officer in any context, defenses might come up and I could inevitably be assumed to be arrogant–it was too risky! Lol.
The crazy thing is, when some women talked about other Officers’ wives, I noticed that they were never a**holes for the sake of being a**holes. No, every displeasing attribute was always linked to being his wife–I heard it many times while in the “closet.” Ultimately, the weight of the secret grew to be unnecessarily heavy. I decided to no longer allow others to project their stereotypes onto me. So, saying that “My husband is a SWO,” is just as effortless as saying, “My husband is a Navy Corpsman” or “My husband is an IT.” Whether Enlisted or Officers, we should all be proud of our spouses’ accomplishments during this journey, because they all make sacrifices to protect our country! You don’t have to “wear his rank,” but you also don’t have to conceal the rank that he wears either! While you may not pin ribbons onto your own blouse every morning, you and your spouse are indeed one! I am a reflection of him, and he is a reflection of me. Many of our spouses excel in their careers as a result of their hard work–of course–but it’s also a result of having a partner at home who is holding down the fort, and encouraging them on those challenging days.
My husband worked hard–he earned his stripes! He’s often applauded by other Black service-members for being among the FEW–the very FEW. I listen with pride as he shares his stories about how this person and that person came up and said, “Wow Sir! I just wanted to tell you that I would like to be where you are one day!” or, “I’ve never seen a Black Captain!” He feels like his purpose goes beyond his rank! He believes that ultimately, his purpose is to inspire and mentor others. I hear the pride in his voice, everytime he has one of these brotherly-love encounters. But sadly, his stories aren’t always about inspiration. Oh no…he also talks about the “What the hell did that person say” comments that are directed at him. The gall that some of the service-members have when addressing him, is astonishingly disrespectful. If he’s in civilian clothing, no one EVER assumes that he is an Officer, either. Unless telling people who he is, he is treated like any other Black man in the service–good or bad. And, I’m treated like any other Black wife…I expect no special treatment, nor do I receive it.
You see, unlike other Officers’ wives, Black women may listen to stories of injustice based solely on our spouses’ ethnicity. Every time that he puts on that uniform, I know that it means so much more than what’s on his collar. He isn’t your “normal” Officer, and I’m not your normal Officer’s wife. Many Black Officers’ wives have no desire to “wear” their spouses’ ranks, but we are so proud that they survived the hardships that allowed them to be among the few who are called “Sir” or “Ma’am.” Many of us are also college-educated and have accomplished our own goals outside of our marriage. We have so much to be proud of, and yet we know who we are and from where we came. We are still apart of a sisterhood that goes beyond ranks, and if any of us ever feel like we cannot talk openly about our spouses accomplishments because our “friends” might look at us differently, perhaps we should look into the authenticity of those friendships. Why can’t we celebrate our spouses making E-3 or O-3, together?! Friends uplift each other–they don’t withhold accomplishments because of how another friend “might” react. Let’s give each other more credit as sisters.
*To my husband, I have no shame in being an Officer’s wife–but my greatest pride comes from being YOUR WIFE! I’m so proud of your recent promotion on becoming an O-6 in the United States Navy, and I’ll be forever grateful for every lesson/blessing that comes with apart of a military family!
***Photo is from our wedding reception in 2006.