This week, female members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) sent a letter to U.S. Department of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, asking him to revise the recently released Army Regulation 670-1, which featured updated standards for female grooming. AR 670-1 went into effect on March 31, and included a ban on certain hairstyles, such as two-strand twists and dreadlocks. Other styles, like cornrows and braids are permitted if they’re under 1/4-inch in diameter.
In their letter, the 16 congresswomen say that the regulations are “discriminatory” and “[target] soldiers who are women of color with little regard to what is needed to maintain their natural hair.” The letter comes at the tail end of a wave of criticism by soldiers and civilians who’ve voiced concern about the new standards. A petition on the White House’s wethepeople.org has garnered more than 15,000 signatures from people who want the regulations retracted. Sgt. Jasmine Jacobs, a Black woman who wears her hair in twists, created the petition on March 20 in order to protest the changes. She told the Army Times that she’s “kind of at a loss now with what to do with [her] hair.”
In a response to the backlash, Army spokesman Paul Prince also spoke to the Times and said, “Headgear is expected to fit snugly and comfortably, without bulging or distortion from the intended shape of the headgear and without excessive gaps. Unfortunately, some hairstyles do not meet this standard or others listed in AR 670-1.”
Last Thursday, ESSENCE hosted a Twitter debate in which we asked people whether they thought AR 670-1 was discriminatory or not. Many participants saw bias in the hairstyle bans, but some chimed in to defend the Army’s right to establish their own rules for the protection of its soldiers.
Secretary Hagel has yet to address the CBC’s letter.