Black Congresswomen Ask Army to Reconsider Ban on Ethnic Hairstyles

The new regulations are discriminatory, offensive and biased, the lawmakers say.

Posted: 04/11/2014 10:24 AM EDT

The 16 female members of the Congressional Black Caucus are in a bit of a twist over the Army's ban on certain natural hairstyles often worn by African-American female soldiers. In a letter sent to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Thursday, the lawmakers have asked him to rethink the department's revised grooming standards, which they say make it more difficult for Black women serving in the military to maintain and upkeep their hair.

"Though we understand the intent of the updated regulation is to ensure uniformity in our military," the letter reads, "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."

They also expressed displeasure over the use of terms like "unkempt" and "matted" to describe dreadlocks, which are not authorized according to the new regulations.

"The use of words like 'unkempt' and 'matted' when referring to traditional hairstyles worn by women of color [is] offensive and biased. The assumption that individuals wearing these hairstyles cannot maintain them in a way that meets the professionalism of Army standards indicates a lack of cultural sensitivity conducive to creating a tolerant environment for minorities," the lawmakers wrote, adding that the grooming standards should allow "individuals from every community to feel proud and welcome to serve in our nation's Armed Forces."

Sgt. Jasmine Jacobs of the Georgia National Guard started a White House petition last month asking the Obama administration to reconsider the regulations, which she said "offer little to no options for females with natural hair." The petition currently has 15,577 signatures but must reach 100,000 by April 19 to be considered.

"These new changes are racially biased and the lack of regard for ethnic hair is apparent. This policy needs to be reviewed prior to publishing to allow for neat and maintained natural hairstyles," Jacobs wrote.

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