CBC Women Push to End Military Regulations on Black Hairstyles

James Wright | 4/11/2014, 11:50 a.m.
Congressional Black Caucus Chair Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) (Courtesy photo)

The female members of the Congressional Black Caucus wrote a strongly worded letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, railing against "offensive and biased" regulations that would discipline black women in the military for wearing differing, cultural hairstyles.

"We write to you regarding the United States Army's update regulation, AR 670-1, that specifies hairstyles often worn by many African-American women and other minority women, as unauthorized," Caucus chairwoman Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) wrote Thursday on behalf of the other black women representatives and delegates in the U.S. House of Representatives. "Though we understand the intent of the updates 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."

Fudge said that black women's hairstyles are often referred to in derogatory terms by some U.S. Army officials.

"Army officials have responded to criticism of the regulation by saying it applies to all soldiers regardless of race and that they are meant to protect their safety," the congresswoman said. "However, the use of words such as 'unkempt' and 'matted' when referring to traditional hairstyles worn by women of color are 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."

Fudge encouraged Hagel to "reconsider the updated regulation as it relates to grooming standards and how it allows individuals from every community to feel proud and welcome to serve in our nation's Armed Forces."

"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," she said.