- New rules ban most twists, dreadlocks and large cornrows
- Congressional Black Caucus said the rules did not consider what is required for African-American women to maintain natural hair
- Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has called for a 3-month review
The military is reviewing its new regulations involving soldiers’ appearance following criticism that the changes in hair requirements are racially biased.
Earlier this month, the Army issued new appearance standards that ban most twists, dreadlocks and large cornrows – styles used predominantly by African-American women with natural hairstyles. Black women make up a third of the armed forces.
Soldiers are ‘not authorized to wear braids, cornrows, or dreadlocks (unkempt, twisted, matted, individual parts of hair) while in uniform, or in civilian clothes on duty,’ the guidelines note.
But Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called for the review after 16 female members of the Congressional Black Caucus wrote to him, complaining about the updated guidelines.
In their original letter, they wrote: ‘Though we understand the intent of the updated regulation is to ensure uniformity in our military, it is seen as discriminatory rules targeting soldiers who are women of color with little regard to what is needed to maintain their natural hair.’
They also said that the guidelines calling hairstyles worn mostly by black women ‘unkempt’ and ‘matted’ show a lack of ‘cultural sensitivity’.
‘I think that it primarily targets black women, and I’m not in agreement with it,’ Patricia Jackson-Kelley from the National Association of Black Military Women added to the AP. ‘I don’t see how a woman wearing three braids in her hair, how that affects her ability to perform her duty in the military.’
In a response letter, obtained by the Military Times, Hagel wrote: ‘I want to assure you that, while none of the Army’s revised grooming and appearance policies were designed or intended to discriminate or disparage against any service members, I take your concerns very seriously.’
Pentagon spokesman Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby says Hagel will have the deputy secretary of defense ‘work with the service secretaries and military chiefs to review their respective policies’ over the next three months.
Each service will review its policy ‘as they pertain to African American women to ensure standards are fair and respectful of our diverse force, while also meeting our military services’ requirements’, he wrote.
Hagel will then make whatever adjustments to the policy are appropriate after the review.