When a group of African-American female cadets posed with fists up ahead of their military academy graduation, it quickly became controversial.
The 16 Black women posed proudly in full uniform in front of the historic Nininger Hall on the West Point campus in West Point, New York, for the traditional “Old Corps Photo.” Typically, cadets pose standing tall and straight with a stoic expression.
When the photo surfaced online last month showing the women joined together in solidarity with fists clenched and raised, it caused some to view it as the cadets making a political statement, which is against military rules.
Soldiers, including cadets at the academy, may “register, vote, and express their personal opinion on political candidates and issues, but not as a representative of the Army,” according to Army Command Policy.
“Enforcement of this policy… is vitally important to unit cohesion and morale, and is essential to the Army’s ability to accomplish its mission,” the policy states.
One blogger described it as a “completely unprofessional” move aligned to the Black Lives Matter movement. Others deemed it an act in support of the Black Panther Party.
“They weren’t doing it to be aligned with any particular movement or any particular party. It was, ‘We did it and we did it together,'” said Mary Tobin, a graduate of the academy who mentored some of the women photographed.
West Point alumna Sue Fulton, who said she’s friends with some of the cadets in the photo, posted one of their other snapshots without their fists up.
“THIS. Fearless, flawless, fierce. Ready,” she captioned the photo.
An inquiry was opened on April 28 after the photo made its way to academy officials. None of the women in the photograph have been named publicly and it was not specified whether the inquiry could result in disciplinary action for the cadets.
“I’ve now seen a black woman’s fist compared to a noose, Confederate flag, swastika,” Fulton tweeted Monday. “A white man’s fist means pride, triumph, Go Army #THINK”
I've now seen a black woman's fist compared to a noose, Confederate flag, swastika. A white man's fist means pride, triumph, Go Army #THINK— Sue Fulton (@suefulton) May 9, 2016
(Photo: Jose Luis Pelaez Inc, Getty Images)