Hagel Reviews Hair Regs Seen as Racially Biased

  • There is a petition to change the new Army appearance regulations, saying they are discriminatory to black women.
  • This undated image shows new Army grooming regulations for females. New  regulations meant to help standardize and professionalize soldiers’ appearance are coming under criticism by some black military women, who say changes are racially biased.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered a servicewide review Tuesday that was likely to scrap parts of new regulations on hair and grooming that drew fire from African-American military women and the Congressional Black Caucus.

On Hagel's directive, the services will have 30 days to "revise any offensive language" in the new regulations and another 90 days "to make whatever appropriate adjustments to DoD policy as necessary," said Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon's chief spokesman.

The Army's regulation appeared to ban several hairstyles, including twists, dreadlocks and large cornrows that are popular with many African-American women.

The regulation in question -- AR 670-1 -- began with a general statement: "The requirement for hair grooming standards is necessary to maintain uniformity within a military population. Many hairstyles are acceptable, as long as they are neat and conservative."

The controversy came in later sections equating braids and cornrows with dreadlocks.

"Any style of dreadlock (against the scalp or free-hanging) is not authorized," the regulation said. "Braids or cornrows that are unkempt or matted are considered dreadlocks and are not authorized."

Sgt. Jasmine Jacobs of the Georgia National Guard took exception to the new rules and sent a petition to the White House that has now picked up more than 17,000 signatures.

"These new changes are racially biased and the lack of regard for ethnic hair is apparent," Jacobs said in the petition.

The 16 women of the Congressional Black Caucus also complained directly to Hagel, seeking changes in the regulations.

In a statement, Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, chair and chief executive of the Caucus, thanked Hagel for ordering a "careful review of each service's language and grooming policies to ensure both are clear of offensive language and are respectful of the diversity within our Armed Forces."

"Secretary Hagel also assured us that the Army's intent with AR 670-1 was not to offend or discriminate against women of color," Fudge said.

The new regulations also banned several male hairstyles, including Mohawks and long sideburns. Body piercings were also banned, along with tattoos visible below the knee or elbow, or above the neckline.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@monster.com.

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