Army to review hair rules after complaints from black military women

This undated image provided by the US Army shows new Army grooming regulations for females.

This undated image provided by the US Army shows new Army grooming regulations for females.  ( AP/US Army)

The military is reviewing its new regulations involving soldiers' appearance after criticism by some black military women and lawmakers who argue that changes in the hair requirement are racially biased.

Pentagon spokesman Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said Tuesday that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will make whatever adjustments to the policy are appropriate after a completing a review requested by members of the Congressional Black Caucus.  

“I want to assure you that, while none of the Army’s revised grooming and appearance policies were designed or intended to discriminate or disparage against any service members, I take your concerns very seriously,” Hagel wrote in a response letter obtained by the Military Times.

The Army earlier this month issued new appearance standards that ban most twists, dreadlocks and large cornrows. Those are all styles used predominantly by African-American women with natural hairstyles. 

Sixteen female members of the Congressional Black Caucus wrote to Hagel calling the changes "discriminatory rules targeting soldiers who are women of color." 

"Though we understand the intent of the updated regulation is to ensure uniformity in our military, it is seen as discriminatory rules targeting soldiers who are women of color with little regard to what is needed to maintain their natural hair," the lawmakers wrote.

They also said that references in the regulation to hairstyles worn mostly by black women as "unkempt" and "matted" are offensive and show a lack of "cultural sensitivity," according to the Military Times. 

Kirby said Hagel will have the deputy secretary of defense "work with the service secretaries and military chiefs to review their respective policies" over the next three months.

In a statement to the Military Times, Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, thanked Hagel for his response.

"Secretary Hagel has committed to 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," Fudge said. "Members of the CBC appreciate Secretary Hagel for his prompt response to our letter and for seriously considering our concerns."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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