Defense Secretary Hagel Orders Army to Review Black Hair Bans

The Army and its complicated relationship with black hair are back! I’m sure before ordering the military to review its recent controversial hairstyle rules, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel probably needed several people to explain why banning locks and twists was a problem for African American soldiers, let alone a priority for him.

But following a petition created by black women in uniform and protests from Congressional Black Caucus leaders like California Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee, reports the New York Times, Hagel got active.

Responding to a complaint lodged by the 16 women of the Congressional Black Caucus, Mr. Hagel said he had given the secretaries and military leaders of the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines three months to review comprehensive military regulations as they pertain to black women “to ensure standards are fair and respectful of our diverse force.”

To some, this probably won’t seem like a big deal. But white confusion surrounding black hair has a long history which writers Lori L. Tharps and Ayana Byrd, authors of Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America, tackled in a New York Times op-ed.

If a person doesn’t have black hair, isn’t married to someone with black hair or isn’t raising a child with black hair, this issue may seem like a whole lot of something about nothing. But what these women are demanding is a policy that reflects a basic understanding of black hair. For most black people, hair naturally grows up and out — think of the shape of an Afro — not down. But the Army’s regulations assume that all hair not only grows the same way but can be styled the same way. For example, one permitted hairstyle is a bun. Yet because of the thickness of a lot of black women’s hair, a bun is not always possible unless the hair is put into twists first. But twists and dreadlocks, no matter how narrow and neat, are banned in the policy and labeled “faddish” and “exaggerated.” …

The argument isn’t that the Army does not have the right to enforce a conservative code — this is the Army, after all — but that it must consider the diversity of hair textures. The current policy is the equivalent of a black majority military telling its thousands of white soldiers that they are required to have dreadlocks or Afros.

If nothing else, maybe all of this controversy, conversation and public military review can, once and for all, answer THE black hair question of 'How did you get your hair like that?' A girl can dream ...

Image via the Army.