Arizona US Rep. Eli Crane Calls Black Service Members ‘Colored People’

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 28: U.S. Rep. Eli Crane (R-AZ) speaks at a press conference on the debt limit and the Freedom Caucus's plan for spending reduction at the U.S. Capitol on March 28, 2023 in Washington, DC. The group of conservative Republicans is proposing making deep cuts to entitlement spending including repealing much of President Joe Biden's signature Inflation Reduction Act. Crane was joined by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) (L) and Rep. Bob Good (R-VA). (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

By Camaron Stevenson

July 14, 2023

Crane later asked that his phrasing be amended on the official record to “people of color.”

US Rep. Eli Crane, R-Ariz., used a racial slur on Thursday while proposing an amendment to a defense bill that would restrict race-based training in the military.

“My amendment has nothing to do with whether or not colored people, or Black people, or anyone can serve, okay?” Crane said. “It has nothing to do with [the] color of your skin, any of that stuff.”

Crane was immediately reprimanded by Democratic Rep. Joyce Beatty, who asked that Crane’s slur be stricken from the record. After the US House voted unanimously to do so, Crane asked that his phrasing be amended to “people of color.”

Why it Matters

“Colored people” is a Jim Crow-era pejorative phrase used to describe Black people, usually as a way to designate places or things they were restricted from using.

Crane used this term on the House floor while speaking in favor of his proposal to end race-based training for hiring, promotions, and retention within the US Defense Department.

He argued that focusing on diversity and inclusion puts the military at a disadvantage with countries like China and Russia, which do not have race-based programs in their militaries. 

“The military was never intended to be, you know, inclusive. Its strength is not its diversity. Its strength is its standards,” Crane said.

But the United States is a very different country than those mentioned by Crane. While China and Russia are ethnically diverse, they are racially homogenous: 91% of people in China are Han Chinese, and 81% of people in Russia are ethnic Russians.

The US has a much more racially diverse population. Programs to ensure organizations like the military become more inclusive and racially diverse are put in place to try and represent the country as a whole, and an attempt to correct the overrepresentation of white males in a country where opportunities were restricted based on race and gender.

The military wasn’t fully desegregated until about 60 years ago, and it takes longer than a generation to undo centuries of institutionalized discrimination. That’s why these programs matter—not to give people an undeserved advantage, but to try and make up for undeserved disadvantages embedded into the system.

What’s Next

Friday’s vote capped a tumultuous week for Republican Speaker Kevin McCarthy as far-right members of his party drove the agenda, forcing their colleagues to consider radical ideas for the must-pass bill that has been a bipartisan priority since World War II.

The defense bill authorizes $874.2 billion for defense spending, keeping with President Joe Biden’s budget request. The funding itself is to be allocated later this year, when Congress handles the appropriation bills, as is the normal process.

The package sets policy across the Defense Department, as well as in aspects of the Energy Department, and this year focuses particularly on the US stance toward China, Russia, and other national security fronts.

Cranes’ proposal—which passed in the Republican-majority House—is part of a larger effort to end diversity and inclusion measures. This was passed alongside amendments to the defense budget that would restrict access to healthcare for transgender people, as well as abortion services.

But even with approval by the House, the package still must go to the Senate, which is preparing its own version. Senate Democrats have the majority but will need to build a bipartisan bill with Republicans to ensure enough support for passage in that chamber.

Democratic members of the Armed Services Committee, led by Rep. Adam Smith, went from supporting the bill to opposing it once the various social policy amendments were added.

Smith, who is white, tried to explain to Crane and other colleagues why the Pentagon’s diversity initiatives are important, drawing on his own experience as a businessman trying to reach outside his own circle of contacts to be able to hire and gain deeper understanding of other people.

Smith lamented that the bill that passed overwhelmingly out of the Armed Services Committee “no longer exists.” 

“What was once an example of compromise and functioning government has become an ode to bigotry and ignorance,” he said.


  • Camaron Stevenson

    Camaron is the Founding Editor and Chief Political Correspondent for The Copper Courier, and has worked as a journalist in Phoenix for over a decade. He also teaches multimedia journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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