I was reading something recently and found it to be quite disturbing.
Are we missing the mark? Are we more concerned about how someone chooses to style their hair, as apposed to the sacrifice they are making by putting their life on the line to serve their country?
There was an article in the New York Times by Helene Cooper with a headline that read:
Army’s Ban on Some Popular Hairstyles Raises Ire of Black Female Soldiers
See the full article below:
WASHINGTON — Black women and their hair have been a topic of discussion for years by people like Maya Angelou, Al Sharpton and Salt-N-Pepa.
Now add Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to that list.
In reaction to a new Army regulation banning numerous hairstyles — twists, dreadlocks and large cornrows — popular with black women, the 16 women of the Congressional Black Caucus have asked Mr. Hagel to overturn the regulation on behalf of the 26,700 African-American women on active duty in the Army. The regulation comes at the same time as a new Army rule banning tattoos on the face, neck, hands, fingers and lower arms of recruits.
Both regulations are among new grooming standards that critics say are meant to further weed people out of an Army reducing its size from its post-9/11 peak of 570,000 to as low as 420,000 in the years to come. Representative Marcia L. Fudge, the Ohio Democrat who is chairwoman of the black caucus, said she had been struck in recent visits to military bases by how many soldiers — black and white — said they felt they were being pushed out of the military. The new regulations, announced on March 31, have intensified that feeling, she said.
“One of the things they should not do is insult the people who’ve given up their time and put their lives at risk by saying their hair is unkempt,” Ms. Fudge said. “Now they want to downsize, these styles are not appropriate?”
To others, the rules are the result of the coming home of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.
“There’s a tendency during wartime to permit personal styles and variations in approach simply because more important things are at stake than how your hair looks or what tattoo is on your arm,” said Loren B. Thompson, a military expert at the Lexington Institute, a research organization. But now, he said, a smaller Army can “be more arbitrary about enforcing regimentation.”
Although the new rules on tattoos have come under fire, particularly since body art became popular among soldiers deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, the regulations on black hairstyles have drawn more outrage and charges of racism. By Friday, more than 17,000 people had signed an online petition sent to the White House to get the hair regulations rescinded.
At the root of the concern about the Army regulations, many black women said, is a lack of understanding about black hair, coupled with a norm that uses the hair of white women as its baseline. While black hair comes in all textures, much of it is deeply curly, making it difficult, unless chemically straightened, to pull back into a bun or to hang loose off the face in a neat, uniform way.
“Our hair is kinky,” said BriGette McCoy, a former Army specialist, her voice getting angrier as she spoke. “It is genetic, it is hereditary, there is nothing we can do about it. And to have someone tell you that because your hair comes out of your scalp that way, you have to go and change it, when no one else is required to change that about themselves?”
In Ms. McCoy’s view, the new regulations are a further affront to what she views as longtime Army squeamishness about the hair of black women, who make up more than a third of active-duty women in the Army. Twice when she was working as an Army data communications specialist in Germany, she said, her superiors ordered her back to her barracks because her commanding officer deemed her hair “unkempt.”
“They were saying it had to be neat and couldn’t be unkempt, and to them, neat and kempt meant straightened,” she recalled.
The word “unkempt” shows up in the new regulations, too: “Braids or cornrows that are unkempt or matted are considered dreadlocks and are not authorized.”
The word did not go unnoticed by Representative Barbara Lee, a California Democrat and a member of the black caucus. “This is very offensive,” she said.
Defense Department officials said Mr. Hagel “appreciates the Congressional Black Caucus’s concerns regarding this issue,” in the words of Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Christensen, a Pentagon spokesman. Then he quickly tossed the issue back to the people who had started the fuss. “We expect the Army to provide a response shortly,” Commander Christensen said.
Army officials, who said the new regulations simply clarify existing ones by specifically describing prohibited hairstyles, continued to try to explain them — it all seems to boil down to the need for uniformity among troops — but the explanations so far have not silenced the critics. One of the loudest among them is former Sgt. Jasmine Jacobs, the woman who started the White House petition. She said she had become alarmed the minute she had gotten an email.
“I remember thinking, ‘What on earth am I going to do with my hair?’ ” she said of her locks, which she keeps in two-strand twists that are now banned. Her only remaining options, she said, would be to have tiny cornrows, chemically straighten her hair, or get a weave or wig. She recalled deploying in Iraq in 2008 and 2009 with a woman who kept redoing her cornrows to make them neat and small enough to fit Army regulations, and “by the time we got back her hairline had receded an inch.”
Ms. Jacobs was a public affairs officer with the Georgia National Guard until April 11, when her discharge, originally scheduled for May 15, was unexpectedly moved up.
Even deployed black women in the Army who decide to straighten their hair run into problems, because the expensive hair products necessary to maintain it are often difficult to get, particularly in commissaries in Afghanistan.
As a result, Myraline Whitaker started a project, Sister Soldier, that ships hair products to black military women. She began the project in 2007 after a white Marine who had been deployed in Iraq told her that her strongest memory about a black soldier with whom she shared a room was the smell of her hair when she was using a hot comb to straighten it. Since then, Ms. Whitaker, a hotel consultant, has sent, on request, more than 7,000 care packages of black hair products to deployed women. In an interview, she said she was initially stunned by how many requests she received.
What has surprised critics of the regulations even more is that Army officials insist the updates were cleared by a focus group that included black women in the Army.
“African-American female soldiers were involved in the process of developing the new female hair standards,” said Lt. Col. Alayne P. Conway, an Army spokeswoman. “Not only were nearly 200 senior female leaders and soldiers, which included a representative sample of the Army’s populations, part of the decision-making process on the female hair standards, but the group was also led by an African-American female.”
The Army declined to give the names of the black women involved in the decision, or make them available for comment.