National & World News

African-American lawmakers ask Army to reconsider new hairstyle rule

Halimah Abdullah, WASHINGTON (CNN) — African-American female lawmakers are taking the Army to task for a new ban on a number of ethnic hairstyles, guidelines which some are calling racially discriminatory.

The group from the Congressional Black Caucus wrote Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Thursday urging the military to reconsider the rule.

“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,” the letter said.

The Pentagon did not respond to a request for comment.

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However, the Army has previously said it rejects the charges of discrimination, especially since black women were involved in helping craft the new guidelines regulating everything from the style of hair parts, the width of braids and how far thick hair can extend from the scalp.

“African American female soldiers were involved in the process of developing the new female hair standards,” said Troy Rolan, an Army spokesman. “Not only were nearly 200 senior female leaders and soldiers (which included a representative sample of the Army’s populations) part of the decision-making process on the female hair standards, but the group was also led by an African American female.”

The Army has faced pushback from some African-American members of the military and black civilian supporters over new guidelines that mandate such things as hair “must be of uniform dimension, small in diameter (approximately ¼ inch), show no more than 1/8 (inch) of the scalp between the braids.” Army rules ban dreadlocks and twists of any kind as well as styles it views as “unkempt” or “matted.”

That type of language rankled the Black Caucus members.

The issue, they say, is that such phrasing implies that ethnic hair that is “natural” or not straightened with heat or chemicals is somehow unruly and must be carefully regulated to fit within white cultural norms.

“The use of words like ‘unkempt’ and ‘matted’ when referring to traditional hairstyles worn by women of color are offensive,” the lawmakers wrote. “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.”

In issuing its newest set of appearance guidelines, the Army has found itself entangled in centuries old identity politics that have been a sore point for the African-American community since slavery.

HLN.com’s AJ Willingham contributed to this report

VIEW & ADD COMMENTS

3 Comments to “African-American lawmakers ask Army to reconsider new hairstyle rule”

    Melissa said:
    April 10, 2014 at 5:06 PM

    Make everyone have the same short haircut and be done with it!! This is the military not a fashion show.

    ross said:
    April 10, 2014 at 8:38 PM

    This is the military you don’t have rights other than not joining. If you think you have it bad move to the middle east and no one will see your stupid hair again anyway. Suck it up, look right, and be proud to serve America. If you don’t like the rules move to another country our try that cry baby stuff in the USMC you’d get set straight. Semper Fi.

    caprice said:
    April 11, 2014 at 7:41 AM

    Yup, you have the right Not to join!!! And just like anything else that you choose to "join" you know full well what is expected of you before hand, suck it up and get on with it, I agree with the comment "be proud to serve America"!

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