black women

Does The Army’s Hair Policy Discriminate Against Black Women?

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army black hairBlack women have historically faced abusive scrutiny in regards to their appearance. In the U.S. Army, where they serve their country, the scrutiny continues. The Army released a new grooming regulation that put a ban on certain hairstyles. These banned hairstyles most certainly  target the majority of Black women and women of color. The proposed regulation, AR 670-1 explicitly shows images of twists, dreadlocks, Afros, braid and cornrows as a violation of the new grooming regulation. Adding insult to injury, the regulation was not intended to be released publicly.

Key female representatives from the Congressional Black Caucus have raised their voices calling these regulations “racially biased.” The women have asked Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to rethink the proposed regulation.  The Root reports that the grooming regulation has galvanized a White House petition. The hope is that on April 19th the petition will have 100,000 signatures and a response from the White House. The letter from the women representing the Congressional Black Caucus clearly lays out the history of institutions often demanding that women of color, especially Black women, adopt Eurocentric standards of beauty. Their words need no summarizing. The women of CBC write:    “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.  African American women have often been required to meet unreasonable norms as it is relates to acceptable standards of grooming in the workplace. Understand that these standards should shift based on each community’s unique and practical needs.

“New cultural norms and trends naturally change, ensuring that no person feels targeted or attacked based on his or her appearance. We believe the Army’s updated rules and the way they are written fail to recognize this reality,” The open letter goes on saying, “The use of words like ‘unkempt’ and ‘matted’ when referring to traditional hairstyles worn by women of color are offensive and biased. 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.” Hopefully, the regulation will be overturned if met with enough push back.

Itoro Udofia is a first generation Nigerian writer, educator and singer/songwriter. You can find her work and follow her at http://thoughtsofmymind-itoro.blogspot.com.