The military is officially changing its hairstyle policy after a petition was launched against the racially biased rules that were formerly in place.
In April, the Army received flack after issuing new appearance standards that banned most twists, dreadlocks and large cornrows–styles used predominantly by African-American women with natural hairstyles.
Department of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced on Monday that the Pentagon ‘reviewed its definition of authorized and prohibited styles, and eliminated offensive language, including the terms “matted and unkempt,” from both the Army and Air Force grooming regulations,’ according to Styleite.
Under the new rules, acceptable styles for members of the armed forces–of which a third are black women–have now been extended to include cornrows, twists and larger braids.
‘These reviews were informed by a panel of military personnel of mixed demographics reflective of our diverse force,’ Hagel wrote in a letter addressed to Congressional Black Caucus chair Rep. Marcia Fudge.
Hagel called for the review in late April after 16 female members of the Congressional Black Caucus wrote to him, complaining about the updated guidelines.
Additionally, more than 11,000 people signed a White House petition asking President Barack Obama, the commander in chief, to have the military review the regulations to allow for ‘neat and maintained natural hairstyles.’
In their original letter, the Congressional Black Caucus wrote: ‘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.’
They also said that the guidelines calling hairstyles worn mostly by black women ‘unkempt’ and ‘matted’ show a lack of ‘cultural sensitivity’.
‘I think that it primarily targets black women, and I’m not in agreement with it,’ Patricia Jackson-Kelley from the National Association of Black Military Women added to the AP. ‘I don’t see how a woman wearing three braids in her hair, how that affects her ability to perform her duty in the military.’
In a response letter, obtained by the Military Times, Hagel wrote: ‘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.’
Pentagon spokesman Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said Hagel would have the deputy secretary of defense ‘work with the service secretaries and military chiefs to review their respective policies’ over the following three months.
Each service was asked to review its policy ‘as they pertain to African American women to ensure standards are fair and respectful of our diverse force, while also meeting our military services’ requirements’, he wrote.