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Racist recruiting? Ad draws fire

Jun. 12, 2008 - 07:35PM   |   Last Updated: Jun. 12, 2008 - 07:35PM  |  
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The Marine Corps' newest recruiting commercial aimed at targeting minorities tackles a long-running and often-controversial debate involving black American youth: swimming ability.

Called "Leap," the commercial shows a young black man standing at a high diving platform overlooking a swimming pool.

"I faced one of the toughest challenges of my life right here," the narrator says. "I couldn't swim."

Encouraged by his drill instructor's urging not to give up, the man goes for it.

"So I jumped in," he says. "Unsure, apprehensive and scared out of my mind. But I came up a Marine."

The man emerges not from a swimming pool, but from open water, in face paint and combat gear. A rubber boat filled with Marines zooms by and pulls the man inside.

Discussion: Do you think this video is racist?

The ad reflects the real-life story of Staff Sgt. Thomas Hill, a senior drill instructor at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., according to a Marine recruiting Web site, our.marines.com.

Hill volunteered to tell his story when he heard the Corps was looking for ideas for a new commercial, according to the site. "He wants others who approach life the way he did to understand what being a Marine can do for them."

The popular blog Gawker.com, however, derided the ad as "subtle stereotyping."

"The Marines send a simple, straightforward message: ‘Hey, black people. We know you can't swim. That's okay! We'll teach you how, and then let you ride in a cool boat, if you just sign up for the Marines now. Okay?' "

In 1993, then-Commandant Gen. Carl E. Mundy Jr. launched a storm of controversy by telling an interviewer on "60 Minutes" that whites outperform blacks in objective military tests, including swimming.

"In the military skills, we find that the minority officers do not shoot as well as the non-minorities… They don't swim as well. And when you give them a compass and send them across the terrain at night in a land navigation exercise, they don't do as well at that sort of thing."

More recently, a retired Army reserve officer running for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2006 was videotaped at a Christian Coalition making similar comments: "I grew up in Alabama and I understand and I know this from my own experiences that blacks aren't the best swimmers or may not even know how to swim."

The comments cost Tramm Hudson his shot at winning the Republican nomination for Florida's 13th District.

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