Black congresswomen ask Hagel to reconsider hairstyle regulations

(U.S. Army)
(U.S. Army)

The women members of the Congressional Black Caucus have written a letter to Secretary of Defense Charles Hagel asking him to reconsider the updated regulations on women’s hairstyles, which caused a backlash among some African American women soldiers who saw the rules as culturally biased.

The recently released Army regulations specifically address hairstyles that are popular with African American women, and came out of a focus group of senior women, according to Army officials.  The move sparked criticism and a White House petition, that now has nearly 16,000 signatures.

The letter says that the updated rules, which ban twists and dreadlocks and mandate that braided hair be of certain style,  assume that people with such hairstyles cannot maintain a standard of professionalism,  which indicates “a lack of cultural sensitivity conducive to creating a tolerant environment for minorities.”

“African American women have often been required to meet 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.”

The new regulations refer to unkempt and “matted” hair, words that the Congressional Black Congress members said are offensive and biased.  The congresswoman, including CBC Chairman Marcia L. Fudge (D-Ohio), said that although they understand the intent of the rules, there is little regard for what is needed for women of color to maintain their hair.

“We strongly encourage you to reconsider the updated regulations as it relates to grooming standards and how it allows individuals from every community to feel proud and welcome to serve our nation’s Armed Forces.  Many African American women put 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 regulations will ultimately lead the Armed Forces.”

Nia-Malika Henderson is a political reporter for The Fix.
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