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Black lawmakers appeal to Pentagon over hairstyle ban

Apr. 10, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
This PowerPoint slide shows some of the unauthorized hairstyles for women.
This PowerPoint slide shows some of the unauthorized hairstyles for women. (Army)
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Black female lawmakers are urging Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to reconsider revised Army regulations that ban hairstyles frequently worn by minority women in the military.

Sixteen female members of the Congressional Black Caucus signed a letter Thursday to Hagel, stating that the changes are “discriminatory” against women of color in uniform.

“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 letter states.

They say that while Army officials have said the regulation applies to all soldiers, regardless of race, references in the rule calling hairstyles worn mostly by black women “unkempt” and “matted” are offensive and show a lack of “cultural sensitivity.”

The lawmakers are encouraging Hagel to reconsider the regulation.

“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,” they wrote in the letter. “We urge you to consider the direction in which the updated regulation will ultimately lead the Armed Forces.”

The new Army Regulation 670-1 issued earlier this month bans most twists, dreadlocks and large cornrows - styles predominantly worn by African-American women with natural hairstyles. Though it’s meant to help make soldiers’ appearances consistent, black military women have criticized the update as racially biased.

A Defense Department spokesman acknowledged receipt of the letter.

“The department ... will respond promptly and directly to them. We appreciate their concerns regarding this issue,” said Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen.

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