These Black Women West Point Cadets Started Online Fury With Raised-Fist Photo


A photo of black female West Point cadets raising their fists spurred commenters online to call the women idiots, and the picture itself a "disgrace" that depicts "the demise of our military." 

The women posed for the photo last week as part of a longstanding West Point tradition: dressing up to imitate 19th century, ultra-serious photos of West Point cadets. Some people said the girls were supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, which they say violates army code: The Department of Defense has a policy preventing service members from engaging in political activity while wearing a uniform or displaying a partisan political sign while on military land. 

As of April 28, West Point has opened an investigation to determine whether the women in the photo were in violation of any code. 

Online commenters have also thrown some sharp barbs at the cadets, comparing them to members of the Black Panther Party and saying politics have no place in uniform.


Former drill sergeant John Burk was one of the first to criticize the photo in a May 3 blog post. In a subsequent email to the New York Times, Burk compared the raised fists to a Nazi salute.

The raised fist's history stretches back father than the BLM and Black Panther movements. Suffragists, socialists and labor movements have all adopted the gesture at one point in time. At its core, the symbol represents solidarity and support

But, to Mary Tobin, a 2003 West Point graduate and mentor to many of the women in the photo, the raised fist references Beyoncé more than it does a black-rights movement.

"These ladies weren't raising their fist to say Black Panthers. They were raising it to say Beyoncé," Tobin told the New York Times. "For them, it's not a sign of allegiance to a movement, it's a sign that means unity and pride and sisterhood. That fist to them meant you and your sisters did what only a few people, male or female, have ever done in this country."

Twitter users raised similar points.

West Point graduate and chair of its Board of Visitors Brenda Sue Fulton was the photographer of the now-infamous photo, and defended the women in it to the Army Times

"I am sorry that someone with a blog chose to display this one photo out of context, and to call them racists," Fulton said. "When I spent time with these cadets and heard them tell their stories and laugh and joke with each other, there's no doubt in my mind how much they love West Point, they love the Army and they support each other." 

On April 27, a week before Burk's blog post, Fulton shared another image from the photo shoot on her personal Twitter. 

Army officials are currently investigating the photo. While Fulton understands why, she told Army Times that the investigation is not for the best reasons. 

"West Point is America's college," she said. "If there is a public uproar, however ill-motivated,  the leaders feel their responsibility to the public is to get all the facts."