Army Bans Braids and Twists Because They Don't Understand Black Hair

Illustration for article titled Army Bans Braids and Twists Because They Dont Understand Black Hair

As if the military doesn’t have enough fires with all those sexual assault claims, the Army released an updated regulation banning twists and braids for female members. In response, African American soldiers have crafted a White House petition asking President Obama to order the Army to reconsider their new regulations on the grounds that they are “racially biased” against black women.


You know what? Whomever penned and pushed this regulation through Army brass, as the Army Times reports, never had to contend with a curly head of hair like mine on a busy day.

Attention people who don’t have natural black hair, African American coils are not the same as other coils. As a result, creating rules that are easily followed by non-black people but not black people is unfair and yes, it is racially biased. It is akin to the idea that natural black hair is unprofessional, or schools that send little black girls home because their hair isn't straight like their non-black school mates. For white women, the equivalent would be if the Army ordered every straight haired person to go directly to a salon, get a curly Jessie Spano perm and forced them to keep it fresh and bouncy for the rest of their lives. No. One. Wants. That.


In order for many black women to adhere to the Army’s new regulations, they would have to relax their hair and change the way their hair naturally grows out of their head (read: straighten with harsh chemicals that sometimes result in hair breakage, the death of a soda can or a person's skin and definitely a pricey pattern of repeated hair appointments every six weeks or so forever). Or, black women would have to wash, blow dry and then straighten their hair with a flat iron at least once each week, a process that takes hours, to change the way their hair grows out of their head naturally.

On the other hand, braids and twists are a tried and true time saver while preparing for the day and a God send when stationed in some place like Iraq where finding black hair products would be like easily locating Osama bin Ladin before 2011 — impossible. Hell, similar circumstances happen in America if a black person isn’t in a predominantly African American city. However, with braids or twists a woman can have her hair done in an Army approved bun or ponytail and maintain that style for weeks so a dearth of, say, Mixed Chicks or Pantene Relaxed and Natural isn’t such a big deal. But this new regulation isn’t just foolish because of the braids.

What if a black female soldier’s hair isn’t shoulder-length for example, afro’s are already off the table in terms of authorized Army hair styles so without braids, what’s a girl to do? Braids and twists are necessary — unless the army plans on funding and sending black beauticians to their army bases around the world — they aren’t a choice like tattoos, which the Army also targeted with their new regulations. This is a conversation about culture and practicality, not so much hair.

Besides, caring for black hair is intense. For my own natural curly hair, I wash it every three days with a co-wash that’s sulfate free (that stuff that makes your shampoo suds up) because those chemicals dry out my curls. Then I hand-wring my hair and apply my creamy product in the shower, making two twists in the front of my head with maybe one or two more in the back to minimize frizz in those areas. Next I wrap my hair in a soft, cotton t-shirt, again to minimize frizz, to dry over night if I have time, but usually I have to sit under a hood dryer while typing up Jezebel posts until my hair dries (Yes, I'm doing that right now). In addition, once each week I deep condition my hair or sit under a hair steamer to keep my strands moisturized and happy.


This process might sound like a lot, but I’m actually one of the lesser involved natural hair’ed black women. Now imagine me trying to do all this with no products and no time in an army barrack based in some far-flung country. These hair regulations are like banning convenient buns or ponytails for white girls, and if that happened, there would be a riot. I'm signing that White House petition right now.

Image via the Army.

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I think there are some misconceptions going on here, and maybe as a female soldier I can help out. You can still braid your hair. Pretty much the only style of braids NOT allowed is the one pictured in the lefthand photo (a.k.a three braids).You can braid/french braid your hair in one or two braids OR you can have multiple smaller braids put in. You just cant have three enormous braids. You also CAN have natural hair, as long as its kept short (there are four or five soldiers in my company who do this), and it conforms with all the other regs (doesnt reach below the bottom of your collar, ect). Braids and cornrows (as long as they dont form fancy patterns) are and will continue to be authorized under the new 670-1. Now, I agree that its pretty odd that twists aren't allowed, because IMO they look professional, don't make the headgear look funny, ect., but saying that braids aren't allowed just because a very select ones aren't is a bit disingenuous.

Edited to add that you CAN wear headbands (which many of the natural-haired WOC on my base do to keep their hair back) it just has to be plain and roughly the same color as your natural hair.