“Good Dude Factor”
I have used the word acculturation, W.E.B. Du Bois used the word two-ness to describe the dance, the art of being from one culture yet successfully navigating another. Two Air Force officers, Nathan Dial and Daniel Walker have coined the term “good dude factor” to describe what it takes for African Americans to be successful in pilot training. (Dial & Walker, Institutional racism is boring, 2020)
I believe all the things that I have said about Gen. Brown’s life experiences with majority culture positioned him perfectly to have a high “good dude factor.”
“In the 21st century, institutional racism is boring and easy to miss. Our combined 18 years of experience as Air Force pilots has led us to conclude that racism, in an Air Force flying squadron, revolves around our inability to fully possess what we would call the ‘good dude factor’ (GDF).
In a flying squadron, the GDF is a three-part concept that requires an individual to blend in with the community socially, be operationally competent and positively impact the organization. The GDF is a necessary characteristic to maximize opportunities in the Air Force.
A leadership theory developed by social psychologists John R.P. French and Bertram Raven in the late 1950s and early ’60s details six bases of power: coercion, reward, legitimate, expert, referent and informational. The GDF is a combination of referent and expert power. Referent power emanates from being highly liked and comfortable around peers, subordinates and superiors. Leaders with referent power are seen as role models. Expert power is an in-depth knowledge of the organization’s core tasks. Leaders with expert power persuade organizations through their performance and skill sets…
Institutional racism is boring because gatekeepers hold the referent power to sabotage, without fanfare, an individual who otherwise meets all qualifications. Daniel experienced this when his second-in-command told him that, although his flying skills were superior, he would be ‘weeded out’ of the F-22 community if he did not subdue his personality. Daniel’s presence made his superiors feel uncomfortable. This is unsurprising, given only 1 percent of the Air Force’s fighter pilots are Black. The gatekeepers saw his confidence as an unacceptable bravado, making them unable to see him as a role model.
Institutional racism is easy to miss because even with the credentials and experience exhibiting expert power, airmen’s voices can be quieted based on the GDF. Nathan experienced this when his commander questioned his admittance into an elite Air Force academic program that develops future strategic leaders. Nathan’s blackness blinded his commander’s ability to see and appreciate his qualifications. It took advocates from outside of his unit for his orders to be approved.
In the Air Force, everything from administering punishments to offering opportunities is dependent on an individual’s GDF…
We first learned that our blackness limits our GDF during our four years at the Air Force Academy. Boring racism exists at USAFA because some classmates, superiors and subordinates with referent power attributed our opportunities there to a non-existent Black quota system that took away opportunities for qualified white cadets. Despite Nathan’s superior performance and Daniel’s below-average performance there, we came up short of obtaining the universal GDF.
Boring racism is common at pilot training. For the opportunity to obtain the GDF, instructors required we smile and raise our voices’ pitch, so we did not intimidate others when we spoke. Despite Daniel’s superior performance and Nathan’s below-average performance, our instructors told us we would have been better off had we blended in more. They informed us that to gain the GDF, in the operational Air Force, we had to hide stereotyped hallmarks of blackness by any means necessary.
Over our Air Force careers, the only time we blend in is when our aircraft are wheels up. Although our flying hours are rewarding, mission accomplishments lose their luster when we return to the squadron, and co-workers remind us how we fall short of the GDF standard. Like female and openly gay male aviators, we fall victim to the forceful voices in the room who can disguise their prejudice through subjective GDF shortcomings. These prejudices are only apparent when trends emerge: when every woman receives the same critique about an off-putting voice and poor disposition; when an air of caution fills the squadron bar when openly gay pilots walk in; when every Black airman is told to fix his or her attitude and military bearing.
The challenge for the Air Force in the 21st century is confronting critiques that center on a person’s lack of GDF. Anointing the GDF is idiosyncratic and limits our nation’s ability to recognize and overcome future problems. Instead, the Air Force needs to establish a culture that drives conformity to values that support objective merit.
If the GDF continues, the Air Force will not recruit and retain the nation’s best talent. Americans who do not fit the archetype will not join or will leave for the private sector, and our ability to defend the country we love will suffer. The Air Force is adept at eliminating the enemy abroad. To remain dominant, it needs to eliminate the enemy of boring racism home station.” (Dial & Walker, Institutional racism is boring, 2020)
When you dissect the good dude factor/GDF, it doesn’t look too much different from what I shared about what was expected of the first white female fighter pilots. I shared this in a previous chapter:
“Three Air Force female combat pilots agreed–a little reluctantly–to be interviewed for this story. The big news? They love flying. They love the Air Force. They talk just like the guys…
She didn’t ask for anything from anybody,” said McPeak. ‘Nobody gave her anything, and she went right through that course just like everybody else….
Everybody in the squadron had very high respect for her. And in her opinion, the F-15E is the world’s greatest airplane.’” (Grant, 2002)
Even the white women were supposed to “blend in,” as stated in the GDF description. They were supposed to love flying, love the Air Force, love their airplane, and talk just like the guys, the other white guys in training. This is the “community” they were supposed to blend into to be accepted, to have a high GDF. They were not supposed to have different needs or requests.
For black pilots, obtaining a high GDF required all the things required for the white female fighter pilots, but it also meant hiding “stereotyped hallmarks of blackness” and not displaying too much “confidence.” In every stereotypical fighter pilot movie that you have ever seen, such as “Top Gun,” the white fighter pilot is a cocky S.O.B. bursting with confidence in his abilities as a fighter pilot.
Here’s an article entitled “What is a Fighter Pilot” that a black female fighter pilot sent me. It was her way of describing the fighter pilot ethos that she had learned to be a part of:
“A fighter jock is quite a phenomenon. He likes flying (single seats only), especially gunnery, acrobatics, and cross countries. He has a strange fascination for flying boots, gambling, cigars (the bigger the better), and breaking glasses. He can usually be found in sports cars, at parties, or happy hour. His natural habitat (while on the ground) is the Land of the Bearded Clam, Europe, and/or certain parts of the Orient. He has an affinity for women and booze (especially martinis so dry that the bartender just faces Italy and salutes).
He likes Steve Canyon, to read Snoopy, eat steaks, and tell dirty jokes. His favorite hiding place is in dark cool bars or behind a pair of dark glasses. He is capricious. To amuse himself he may fire practice flares from mobile control, throw empty beer cans down the BOQ corridors, pour drinks down an over-exposed décolleté, or become generally obnoxious. His favorite conversation revolves about a continued chatter concerning flying, booze, or females (the order of priority is apparently irrelevant) …
A fighter pilot is a composite. He has the nerves of a robot, the audacity of Dennis the Menace, the lungs of a platoon sergeant, the vitality of an atomic bomb, the imagination of a science fiction writer; he is glib as a diplomat, impervious to suggestion and is a paragon of wisdom with a wealth of unassorted, completely unrelated and irrelevant facts. He wears the biggest watch, has the shortest staying power, and is always trying to get laid on credit. When he tries to make an impression, either his brain turns to mud or he becomes a savage, sadistic jungle creature bent on destroying the world and himself with it.” (Wolff, 2015)
The problem with the type of “bravado” expressed in this description is that it is typically reserved for white men. In American history, the black man was always supposed to dumb it down, to defer, be subservient, and not try to outshine white men.
The roots of that ugly type of racism in America are exposed here in Daniel Walker’s description of how he was treated. It didn’t matter that Daniel excelled as a fighter pilot. As a black man, he was supposed to tone it down so that his white peers could feel comfortable around him.
I personally don’t think it helped matters that Daniel excelled at being a fighter pilot flying in the Air Force’s newest and most sought-after jet. The stated consequence, should Daniel have not chosen to blend into the community of white fighter pilots and tone down what they perceived as an unacceptable level of bravado for a black man, was that he would be “weeded out.”
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish