The U.S. Army Just Reversed Its Natural-Hair Restrictions

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Just five months after the Army released a controversial update to Army Regulation 670-1, which severely restricted the hairstyles of women with natural locks, the Pentagon is backpedaling. The Washington Post reports that the department has reversed its natural-hairstyling restrictions.

The update initially caused some controversy because of how limiting it was to women with natural hair. Twists, bigger braids, and other styles many women with textured hair use to protect their unprocessed strands were effectively nixed, leaving black female soldiers with few options for styling their natural locks. While we expect there to be some restrictions on grooming when one enters the Army (the crew cut doesn't have its reputation for nothing), the guidelines seemed to be directed specifically at women of color, which made the entire AR 670-1 situation look insensitive, out of touch, and racist.

Within days of the announcement, the backlash was felt on social media, in the Congressional Black Caucus, and in the Army itself. Politicians, soldiers, and everyday women (with or without natural hair) were up in arms over the regulations. More than 17,500 people signed a White House petition, penned by Sgt. Jasmine Jacobs, urging the Army to be more racially inclusive with regard to hairstyles.

"I actually got two sides of the spectrum when it came to response," Jacobs said. "There were a great deal of people who were supportive, but there were a lot of people who felt like I should comply or get the hell out of the Army. But, the majority of responses were positive." Jacobs worked as a sounding board for Representative Hank Johnson, the man who pushed to get the regulations revised, until a statement was released in April claiming the Pentagon would do just that.

screenshot-2014-04-02-12-49-21Photo: Courtesy of the U.S. Army.
While there is no official word on why, exactly, the Pentagon went ahead and reversed the decision, we think it's safe to say the negative response had something to do with it. According to a letter from Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, each branch of the military "reviewed its hairstyle policies to ensure standards are fair and respectful while also meeting our military requirements. These reviews were informed by a panel of military personnel of mixed demographics reflective of our diverse force."

"I'm definitely excited that our voices are being heard and that people are taking this seriously," Jacobs says. But, she stresses that this isn't the end of the dialogue. "They basically reverted the regulations back to what they were before and deleted some offensive language. They claimed they made revisions, but they just went back to the way things were." Jacobs claims there is still room for improvement in the modern-day military. She cites the recent decision by the Coast Guard earlier this year to authorize dreadlocks, noting that these styles can be neatly kept and maintained. "Instead of deleting words that are insults, I'd like people to be informed about what locks are and how they can be well maintained," Jacobs says.

We're happy the Army saw the error of its ways and decided to alter its course. Like Jacobs says, it's a step in the right direction. Our wish is that the Army's change of heart will continue to evolve within all branches of the military. We also hope it will influence other areas where women with natural hair can sometimes be treated unfairly for embracing their texture — like schools and the work place. Once we educate ourselves enough to recognize how diverse hair can be, we can stop these insensitive slip-ups from happening altogether. (The Washington Post)



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