Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
October 1, 2014

Black Congresswomen: Military Hair Rules Unfair to Black Servicewomen

fudge 134 062513 445x296 Black Congresswomen: Military Hair Rules Unfair to Black Servicewomen

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The women of the Congressional Black Caucus want Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to rethink recently-revised Defense Department grooming standards that they say unfairly target hairstyles popular among female African-American soldiers.

In a letter dated Thursday, all 16 women of the CBC joined other critics of the DOD’s grooming policy who contend that the new standards make it more difficult for black servicewomen to maintain and upkeep their hair.

“We understand the intent of the updated regulation is to ensure uniformity in our military,” the CBC members wrote to Hagel, “[but] 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.

“Army officials have responded to criticism of the regulation by saying it applies to all soldiers regardless of race,” they continued. “However 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.”

The letter concludes by asking Hagel to “reconsider the updated regulation as it relates to grooming standards and how it allows individuals from every community to feel proud and welcome to serve in our nation’s Armed Forces.”

The full letter to Hagel appears below:

Dear Secretary Hagel,

We write to you regarding the United States Army’s updated regulation, AR 670-1, that specifies hairstyles often worn by many African American women, and other minority women, as unauthorized. 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 meed unreasonable norms as it 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.

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 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.

We strongly encourage you to reconsider the updated regulation as it relates to grooming standards and how it allows individuals from every community to feel proud and welcome to serve in our nation’s Armed Forces. Many African American women put forth great effort in ensuring their hair is maintained in a way that allows them to be acknowledged for their ability and commitment to the tasks and challenges before them, rather than their appearance. We urge you to consider the direction in which the updated regulation will ultimately lead the Armed Forces.

Sincerely,

The Women of the Congressional Black Caucus

Marcia L. Fudge, D-Ohio, Chair

Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C.

Maxine Waters, D-Calif.

Corrine Brown, D-Fla.

Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas

Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas

Donna M. Christensen, D-V.I.

Barbara Lee, D-Calif.

Gwen Moore, D-Wis.

Yvette D. Clarke, D-N.Y.

Donna Edwards, D-Md.

Karen Bass, D-Calif.

Terri Sewell, D-Ala.

Frederica Wilson, D-FLa.

Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio

Robin Kelly, D-Ill.

  • Lionel Mandrake

    More ridiculous nonsense.

  • tkr380

    My God the insanity continues..

  • Phil

    This is why women should not be allowed in the military. We’re always going to hear about it racist or its sexist

  • Jeffrey Wimmer

    So, the black females should be allowed to wear their hair like hood rats do and not have to abide by Army dress regulations, after all, it’s about what they can do, not how they look? Hey you STUPID Congresswomen, STAY THE HELL OUT of Military matters of which you know NOTHING about. There is a REASON the military services have a dress regulation which include appearances. If they can’t abide by them, then get out and go flip burgers where you can wear your hair any way you wish.

    It’s obvious your attempt is to totally destroy the Military as an institution with all of the customs and courtesys that come with that. You’re NOT going to do it.

  • ExVariable

    Considering the deceitful nature of this individual, one has to wonder if any parts of this conjured narrative are actually true: http://youtu.be/eWynt87PaJ0?t=1m20s

  • Sebastian Burgos

    It’s unfair? Well isn’t it unfair that male soldiers have to keep their hair short and female soldiers don’t? I say shave them all if you are concerned with equality.

  • andrewp111

    The nature of hair varies among individuals. If someone’s hair cannot be kept well at its current length, it needs to be cut shorter. Anyone’s hair can be well kept if it is short enough.

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