Pentagon reverses course: Black soldiers won’t be punished for popular hairstyles
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel released a statement that “conservative” hairstyles popular among black female soldiers will be acceptable according to military grooming standards, Army Times reports.
Last March, the Department of Defense issued new regulations that many African-American servicemen and women claimed were racially biased, especially against black women, who would be forced to use heat or chemical straighteners to achieve an acceptable hairstyle. A number of black women wrote to the Congressional Black Caucus urging them to put pressure on the Department of Defense to change the regulations — and three months later, that is what Chuck Hagel has done.
In a letter to the Congressional Black Caucus notifying them of the changes, Hagel wrote that “[e]ach service reviewed its hairstyle policies to ensure standards are fair and respectful while also meeting military requirements. These reviews were informed by a panel of military personnel of mixed demographics reflective of our diverse force. Additionally, each Service reviewed its hairstyle policies to ensure standards are fair and respectful while also meeting our military requirements.”
The review concluded that the terms “matted and unkempt” when used in reference to African-American hair were “offensive” and eliminated them from the guidelines. The Air Force also determined that the word “dreadlocks” was offensive, and changed the prohibited hairstyle to “locs” in official grooming literature.
Congressional Black Caucus chair Representative Marcia Fudge (D-OH) responded to Hagel’s decision to expand the range of acceptable hairstyles for black female soldiers by saying that “[t]hese changes recognize that traditional hairstyles worn by women of color are often necessary to meet our unique needs, and acknowledges that these hairstyles do not result in or reflect less professionalism or commitment to the high standards required to serve within our Armed Forces.”
“Secretary Hagel and the Department of Defense not only show they are responsive to the individuals who serve within our military, but that he and his leadership respect them as well,” she continued. “The Congressional Black Caucus commends Secretary Hagel for his leadership in addressing this issue.”
[“Black Female Soldier” on Shutterstock]