Black women in the military have garnered the support of the powerful women of the Congressional Black Caucus. All 16 congresswomen signed on to a letter sent to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Thursday asking him to reconsider the new grooming policies, which some consider “racially biased.”
Early last week the U.S. Army came under fire after a proposed grooming regulation, AR 670-1, was leaked, showing bans on twists, dreadlocks, Afros, braid and cornrows. These are all hairstyles traditionally worn by black women with naturally kinky or curly hair.
Backlash was so strong that it prompted a White House petition, which still needs more than 84,000 signatures if it’s to reach the 100,000-signature goal by April 19 and earn an official White House response.
“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 CBC letter reads (pdf). “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,” it continues. “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.”