Last week, the women of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) sent a request to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to review the United States Army grooming and appearance regulations that have some black female soldiers troubled. For many African American women, the dialogue about hair in relation to performance or talent is a tired and old conversation. From Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas to anchor news desks around the country, hair and professionalism are being defined by standards targeted against African American women.
The Army banned dreadlocks in 2005 and this new regulation goes further than the ban by explaining the diameter of braids and twists, which can be low maintenance alternatives to dreadlocks. Primarily Africa American women wear the prohibited styles. It is no surprise that the military has rules regarding grooming, the primary issue for many who are disturbed by this revision is the assumption that the hairstyles are “unprofessional”. The charge is that the regulations are “racially biased” since the changes would primarily impact African American women.
The April 10 letter was sent to Hagel from Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, the Congressional Black Caucus Chair, and it said, “African American women have often been required to meet unreasonable norms as it relates to acceptable standards of grooming in the workplace…….New cultural norms and trends naturally change, ensuring that no person feels targeted or attacked based on his or her appearance.”
There is no argument that our Defense Department has greater issues than the hairstyles of its soldiers but this is not about hairstyles or looking professional in fatigues or in combat. Sergeant Jasmine Jacobs of the Georgia National Guard who started a petition to get the required 100,000 signatures to reconsider the regulation is raising the conversation of racial bias in the military up to the White House.
The petition reads: More than 30% of females serving in the military are of a race other than white. As of 2011, 36% of females in the U.S. stated that they are natural, or refrain from chemically processing their hair. Females with natural hair take strides to style their natural hair in a professional manner when necessary; however, changes to AR 670-1 offer little to no options for females with natural hair. In the proposed changes, unauthorized hairstyles include twists, both flat twists as well as two strand twists; as well as dreadlocks, which are defined as “any matted or locked coils or ropes of hair.” These new changes are racially biased and the lack of regard for ethnic hair is apparent. This policy needs to be reviewed prior to publishing to allow for neat and maintained natural hairstyles.
Currently the petition has about 15,000 signatures of the required 100,000 for the White House to review it. Whether the petition gets the required signatures is not nearly as important as the conversation taking place about fair treatment for women enlistees. Sergeant Jacobs wears twists in part because it is an easy to maintain style for the job she does. If the petition does not get the required signatures or the CBC does not convince Secretary Hagel to reconsider the regulations, Jacobs will have to cut her hair, straighten it or wear a wig to be in compliance.