After fierce criticism from African American soldiers backed by the Congressional Black Caucus and an online petition that gained more than 92,000 signatures, the US Army has rolled back the restrictions on Natural hairstyles.
From Left to right: Melissa Lipscomb, Jessie Anne Flake, Tawanda Marie Hanible, Shakera Evolving Elrington,
Treshawna Speid-Gwendo, Pamela Serenirybliss Gibson, Treshawna Speid-Gwendo
Army Regulation 670-1, initially revised with the goal to push for a more professional force, launched sweeping new rules on tattoos, hairstyles, grooming and uniform wear, in March of this year. Although it is more than understandable that the army strives for a more professional and uniform look the organization realized it went too far by prohibiting styles like dreadlocks and twists. In an hilarious clip Operation Black Hair that made its way around the web, Jessica Williams from the Daily show satirically explains what Black women had to put up with, with the new army rules but it’s all but funny when you think about it.
You can’t base a uniform look for an institution like the US Army on one type of hair. Not only would this fail to be a representation of the nation, the rules are also unfair demanding extreme measures to be taken from a large group of people who aren’t born with that type of hair. No wonder African American soldiers and members of the Congressional Black Caucus felt the changes were racially insensitive.
More than just getting the Army to dial back these restrictions movement Sgt. Jasmine Jacobs who initiated the White House Petition and Rep. woman Marcia Fudge chair of the Congressional Black Caucus made a very important breakthrough.
Unequal hair rights in one of the remaining social injustices that still affect Black women disproportionally. It is the reason why Black women suffer more than any other ethnic group from hair loss (73%) and that Black children and teenage girls are the first to experience hair breakage and even hair loss.
So getting the US Army to understand that Black women need a different set of rules and that locs, twists and afros are no fads but just hairstyles that are naturally made for Black people’s strands, is major.
Not only are natural hairstyles finally recognized terms like unkempt and matted hair used to describe African hairdos are eliminated.
This breakthrough is comparable to the lawsuit in the 80’s when an employee sued Marriot Hotel after being fired for wearing braids. According to the hotel’s policy the style was “too ethnic”. The employee won and it is because of that lawsuit that Black women are allowed to wear braids in the workplace today.
The US Army is the first ever institute in the United States and maybe even in the world that acknowledges and incorporates natural hairstyles in their dress code policies. If African hair textures are acknowledged at all in an organization’s policy it is usually only to denigrate and exclude natural hairstyles. As recent as November last year Ashley Davis had to choose between her locs and her job at Tower Loan in St. Peter’s, Missouri when the company changed their policy. Just like the Army, the company’s new rules also prohibited locs comparing the natural hairstyle to unnatural hair colors and extreme styles like mullets basically sending the message to Miss Davis that her 10 year old locs were unprofessional.
By dialing back the restrictions on natural hair the Army set a great example of how to embrace different textures in a multi ethnic institute that is supposed to represent society. Hopefully other organizations and the corporate world take notice and adjust their rules before it has to come to a petition, involvement of the Black Caucus or a lawsuit.