I'm a Black Military Spouse—Here's How Our Family Navigates Life as a Black Military Family

Black military spouses understand the moment our loved ones take off their uniform, their respect as a hero dissipates. Instead, they have become “just” another Black person in America.

Family walking through field with sunflowers
Photo: Courtesy of Kimberly Gladden-Eversley

If there's one thing that sets military families apart from the civilian world, it's their permanent change of station—or PCS— season. I've learned this after four duty stations and ten years of being a military spouse. Moving every three to five years is a daunting experience and adding children to the equation intensifies the emotional distress. Most military spouses exchange concerns about finances, housing, and childcare. But Black military families, like ours, silently anticipate our next move and hope our new location accepts us for being Black.

If you thought the political map was just for the voting season, you've been out of the loop. Black military families have reportedly used this map as a guide while picking duty stations, praying not to get stationed in a racist community. We've watched the stories, heard the news amid whispers between grocery aisles, and sadly, we've lived it. Without a guarantee, quite often, we're placed in communities that isolate us. And we've found that prejudice continues despite claims that those who challenge social norms will be "canceled."

I still remember our first PCS move from Groton, Connecticut, to San Diego, California. What started as an exciting road trip quickly changed for the worse after my husband was stopped by law enforcement a total of four times during his journey. Thankfully, one thing stood between him and a potential legal battle—his military ID.

The Black military spouse community collectively understands that the moment our spouse takes off their uniform, their respect as a hero dissipates. Instead, they have become "just" another Black man or woman in America. Despite their fight for freedom, the MAGA hat era created and exposed another war zone within our communities. And even though there are no "White" or "Colored" signs in sight, the segregation between us remained clear.

I remember a white active-duty member in Santee, California military housing saying, "All Black people did was pick cotton and farm," during a bonfire night after too many drinks. At this very moment, we knew we "weren't in Kansas anymore." His comment wasn't just racist. It ignored the sacrifices of Black service members from 1778 forward—even as they continue to face discrimination today.

Despite Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, officially allowing Black soldiers to serve our country, it wasn't until 1954 that all military branches became fully integrated. As the number of Black active-duty members continues to rise, studies reveal that leadership positions do not reflect our growing population. It saddens me to say that only a small percentage of Black and brown faces are at the top.

Black military spouses understand that having so few Black service members in leadership informs the cultural differences that separate us from "mainstream" military culture. A power distance that enforces a "colorblind" dress code, removing their identity from their locs to their braided hair. Unfortunately, attempting to embrace their roots starting from the top of their heads can lead to punishment.

Black military spouses share conversations about our partners, who were targeted by police officers but saved by their military ID. While stationed in predominantly white areas, we navigate life without hair products and salons that are familiar with our hair textures.

We have conversations with our children about Black History Month because military schools only touch the surface of our self-affirming history that is ingrained in both sacrifice and triumph. We've experienced the awkward silence surrounding political discussions on base because "no one sees color." These experiences make creating a "home away from home" for our children difficult for Black military parents. Thankfully, social media Black military spouse groups make our transitions easier.

Jeanette Ayala, a Black military spouse of over 18 years and mother of two, nostalgically remembers when her Facebook idea came to life while stationed overseas in Rota, Spain. She is not only the founder of the Kinky Curly Queens of Rota Facebook group but also the queen of solutions for the Black military spouse community.

She became an ambassador of hope by challenging the narrative. "We are not a monolith; we are a group of melanated human beings having our own individual life experiences," Ayala says. Despite historical burdens, she was determined to prove that creating a village could be done. Her refusal to partake in further segregation while integrating into cultures worldwide proved that it only takes one person to overcome stigma with love and acceptance.

"I started the group because, every time I was on base and met another kinky curly queen, that cultural affinity is magnified; the unity is magnified when you are out of your element," she says. "We are out of our country; we aren't just out of our hometown, it's a different language, it's a different culture, it's a different look of people, and you don't see us too often."

Ayala saw and acknowledged the gap between what was needed and what was available and decided to do something about it. "When I bump into another sister, they would say, oh my gosh, I love your hair. Do you know who's braiding?" she says. "I saw a need and needed to help; we need connection, so let's start it!"

Ayala challenges the belief that Black military families don't belong anywhere. "I belong everywhere; I'm a human being, a terrestrial on this planet, wherever we go, that is where we are meant to be," she says. To me, it's a powerful affirmation for Black military spouses to live by.

I imagine a world full of possibilities that can end cultural barriers and create cultural bridges rooted in harmony and acceptance. If we start understanding cultural dimensions and celebrating individuality, we can reduce conflict and promote unity. It's time for the military and neighboring communities to unite for true freedom. We all know it takes a village, but we need your help creating one.

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