Black women and their hair have been a topic of discussion for years by people like Maya Angelou, Al Sharpton and Salt-N-Pepa.
Now add Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to that list.
In reaction to a new Army regulation banning numerous hairstyles — twists, dreadlocks and large cornrows — popular with black women, the 16 women of the Congressional Black Caucus have asked Mr. Hagel to overturn the regulation on behalf of the 26,700 African-American women on active duty in the Army. The regulation comes at the same time as a new Army rule banning tattoos on the face, neck, hands, fingers and lower arms of recruits.
Both regulations are among new grooming standards that critics say are meant to further weed people out of an Army reducing its size from its post-9/11 peak of 570,000 to as low as 420,000 in the years to come. Representative Marcia L. Fudge, the Ohio Democrat who is chairwoman of the black caucus, said she had been struck in recent visits to military bases by how many soldiers — black and white — said they felt they were being pushed out of the military. The new regulations, announced on March 31, have intensified that feeling, she said.
“One of the things they should not do is insult the people who’ve given up their time and put their lives at risk by saying their hair is unkempt,” Ms. Fudge said. “Now they want to downsize, these styles are not appropriate?”
To others, the rules are the result of the coming home of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.
“There’s a tendency during wartime to permit personal styles and variations in approach simply because more important things are at stake than how your hair looks or what tattoo is on your arm,” said Loren B. Thompson, a military expert at the Lexington Institute, a research organization. But now, he said, a smaller Army can “be more arbitrary about enforcing regimentation.”
Although the new rules on tattoos have come under fire, particularly since body art became popular among soldiers deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, the regulations on black hairstyles have drawn more outrage and charges of racism. By Friday, more than 17,000 people had signed an online petition sent to the White House to get the hair regulations rescinded.
At the root of the concern about the Army regulations, many black women said, is a lack of understanding about black hair, coupled with a norm that uses the hair of white women as its baseline. While black hair comes in all textures, much of it is deeply curly, making it difficult, unless chemically straightened, to pull back into a bun or to hang loose off the face in a neat, uniform way.
“Our hair is kinky,” said BriGette McCoy, a former Army specialist, her voice getting angrier as she spoke. “It is genetic, it is hereditary, there is nothing we can do about it. And to have someone tell you that because your hair comes out of your scalp that way, you have to go and change it, when no one else is required to change that about themselves?”
In Ms. McCoy’s view, the new regulations are a further affront to what she views as longtime Army squeamishness about the hair of black women, who make up more than a third of active-duty women in the Army. Twice when she was working as an Army data communications specialist in Germany, she said, her superiors ordered her back to her barracks because her commanding officer deemed her hair “unkempt.”
Source: The New York Times | HELENE COOPER