On March 31, 2014 the Army released an updated appearance and grooming policy known as AR670-1. In the proposed changes, unauthorized hairstyles include twists, both flat twists as well as two-strand twists; dreadlocks of any style; and cornrows must be uniform and no bigger than a quarter of an inch.
As you can imagine, this created an uproar in many communities and has taken many to social media to express their outrage over the U.S. Army’s new regulations on hairstyles, which have been called “racially biased’’ against Black female soldiers.
These regulations apply to all Army personnel, including students at West Point and those serving in the R.O.T.C. and the National Guard. Although no ethnicity was mentioned, it’s not hard to conclude that certain sections specifically pertain to Black women, since they refer to hairstyles like cornrows, braids, twists and dreadlocks — limiting or banning them outright.
For most Black people, hair naturally grows in a curly/coily pattern that makes the hair come up and out from the scalp, not down or flat on the scalp. Thus, styling options can vary based on texture.
The biggest concern isn’t that the Army does not have the right to enforce a conservative code; however, they must consider the diversity of hair textures. An article written in the New York Times stated, “Army’s regulations assume that all hair not only grows the same way but can be styled the same way. For example, one permitted hairstyle is a bun. Yet because of the thickness of a lot of black women’s hair, a bun is not always possible unless the hair is put into twists first. But twists and dreadlocks, no matter how narrow and neat, are banned in the policy and labeled ‘faddish’ and ‘exaggerated.’”
In the Army Times, Sgt. Jasmine Jacobs of the Georgia National Guard, who wears her hair in two twists, stated, “I’ve been in the military six years, I’ve had my hair natural four years, and it’s never been out of regulation. It’s never interfered with my head gear.”
Based on the new policy, it is almost impossible for a woman of color to wear her hair natural and be properly uniformed. Styles such as twist outs, cornrows, and even protective styles such as box braids are all unacceptable. Keep in mind we are talking about over 26,000 Black women who are affected by AR670-1 and who, in spite of “Hair,” are willing to die for their country.
Thankfully, action was taken quickly to have this policy reviewed. The women of the Congressional Black Caucus sent a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel asking him to reconsider the regulations. In the letter they stated that the Army policy’s language was “offensive” and “biased” and strongly urged him to reconsider.
They went on to say, “African American women have often been required to meet unreasonable norms as it relates to acceptable standards of grooming in the workplace.” Such standards “should shift based on each community’s unique and practical needs.” Their request garnered support from more than 17,000 people who signed the petition submitted to whitehouse.gov asking the Obama administration to review the grooming policy.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel responded and required the entire military to review its hairstyle rules. Extremely proud, they know we fight for them as our brave men and women fight for us.
The regulation clearly states that “natural hair is authorized as long as it is neat.” The hair that grows out of our heads is natural. People, organizations and society as a whole must begin to be held accountable for their disinclination to acknowledge textured natural hair.
Great news: Each service reviewed its hairstyle policies to ensure standards are fair and respectful while also meeting military requirements. Changes were made in favor of curlies in the armed forces.
As a result of these reviews, the Army, Navy and Air Force determined changes were necessary to their service grooming regulations to include additional authorized hairstyles. Those three branches will now allow service members to wear their hair in two-strand twists. The Army also increased the size of acceptable braids, and both the Army and Air Force will remove the terms “matted and unkempt” from their grooming guidelines.
I applaud the progress of that hair situation! I continue to honor the Army and other armed forces who sacrifice themselves on behalf of the rest of us as they fight, protect, and defend our country so that we might live in peace.
Keep in mind that being pro-natural does not mean you are anti-relaxer. I like mine Fro Real No Lye!
Natural hair coach and enthusiast Kelley Eubanks welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.