Female members of the Congressional Black Caucus praised Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel for his swift and “thoughtful” response to their concerns over the discriminatory nature of a new Army regulation that banned certain hairstyles usually worn by women of color.
“Members of the CBC appreciate Secretary Hagel for his prompt response to our letter and for seriously considering our concerns,” CBC Chair Rep. Marcia Fudge said in a statement. “Secretary Hagel’s response affirms his commitment to ensuring all individuals are welcomed and can continue to be proud of serving in our Armed Forces.”
On March 31, defense officials released updates to Army Regulation 670-1, a set of grooming and appearance rules. The updates included three new “unauthorized” hairstyles: multiple large braids, headbands other than plain devices, and twists.
The regulations set off an immediate backlash among Black and Hispanic female soldiers, who felt the rule was “racially biased.”
Georgia National Guardswoman Sgt. Jasmine Jacobs, who wears her hair in twists, began a White House petition against the regulation.
“More than 30 percent of females serving in the military are of a race other than White. As of 2011, 36 percent of females in the U.S. stated that they are natural, or refrain from chemically processing their hair,” the petition read. “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.”
“These new changes are racially biased and the lack of regard for ethnic hair is apparent,” it continued. “This policy needs to be reviewed prior to publishing to allow for neat and maintained natural hairstyles.”
Army officials responded that the regulation was nondiscriminatory and meant to ensure uniformity. But the CBC challenged those claims.
“Army officials have responded to criticism of the regulation by saying it applies to all soldiers regardless of race, and that they are meant to protect their safety.
However the use of words like ‘unkempt’ and ‘matted’ when referring to traditional hairstyles worn by women of color are offensive and biased,” the caucus wrote in its April 10 letter.
“The assumption that individuals wearing these hairstyles cannot maintain them in a way that meets the professionalism of Army standards indicates a lack of cultural sensitivity conducive to creating a tolerant environment for minorities,” the group wrote.
In an April 29 reply, Secretary Hagel said he took the CBC’s concerns “very seriously.”
Hagel said he had directed military staff to review and “revise any offensive language” in the regulation within 30 days, and to review their hairstyle policies pertaining to African Americans “to ensure standards are fair and respectful of our diverse force, while also meeting our military services’ requirements.”