Updated: May 7
A senior official at the Department of Veterans Affairs told staff that systemic racism exists in America and promoted other elements of critical race theory in 2020, according to emails released this week.
Jessica Bonjorni is the top human capital official at VA’s Veterans Health Administration (VHA). In June 2020, soon after the death of George Floyd in Minnesota, Bonjorni wrote an email to all VHA staff that said she supported the anti-police protests that followed and said everyone should be working toward the “dismantling of systemic racism.”
Supporters of critical race theory believe the U.S. was founded on racism and is still inherently racist today. Many others reject his view and say it ignores the centuries of progress toward equal treatment under the law that America has made, starting from the Civil War to voting rights for women and blacks to thousands of modern laws and court findings that make it illegal for companies to discriminate against people based on race, gender, religion or other factors.
In her note to staff, Bonjorni encouraged everyone to talk about social justice and racism, and seemed to suggest to white employees that they refer to the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s guidelines for how to “reflect on their own history with race.”
She also appeared to encourage black and minority employees to use their time at VA to provide advice on how to instruct VA employees. “[M]any of you are more than well-versed in these topics because you live them everyday and don’t need more education,” she said. “I welcome your venting, your concerns, your worries and recommendations on how we can do more together to address what is happening in our communities…”
Less than a week later, Bonjorni told staff she was setting up an open forum to talk about “racism and social justice.” One VA official told a member of the press that she used this forum to claim that “America’s founding was racist.”
A few days later, Bonjorni suggested that VHA form a “diversity and inclusion council,” and encouraged staff members to read an article about racism and to “reflect on how racism and oppression have shaped the world we live in today.”
The release of Bonjorni’s emails came after a period of several weeks in which the Biden administration has made clear that its top priority in the military is to promote diversity and inclusion, and stamp out “extremism,” which it fears is festering inside the U.S. Armed Forces.
In April alone, the Defense Department ordered several immediate steps to end extremism in the ranks and changed its grooming guidelines to avoid the perception of racial bias.
In March, DOD prioritized the service of transgender people in the ranks even as it admitted that this policy could have an effect on mission and unit readiness.
In late March, Republicans complained in an open hearing that the Biden administration was risking the constitutional rights of free speech in order to battle extremism without any significant evidence that extremism is a problem in the military.