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Congresswomen upbraid Army for unfair hairstyle regulations: Mitchell

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Updated: May 21, 2014 6:33AM



With time running out on a petition seeking a revision on Army regulations that ban certain ethnic hairstyles, the petition’s creator, Sgt. Jasmine Jacobs of the Georgia Army National Guard, has gotten some influential support from members of Congress.

As of Friday, 17,440 people had signed the petition at the “We The People” White House website, but that’s far short of 100,000 signatures needed by midnight Sunday for Jacobs to get an official response from President Barack Obama’s administration.

Last week, 16 women of the Congressional Black Caucus sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Charles Hagel, encouraging him to “reconsider” the updated regulation that bans braids, dreadlocks, and twists.

“[T]he use of words like ‘unkempt’ and ‘matted’ when referring to traditional hairstyles worn by women of color are offensive and biased,” the letter said in part.

“The assumption that individuals wearing these hairstyles cannot maintain them in a way that meets the professionalism of Army standards indicates a lack of cultural sensitivity conducive to creating a tolerant environment for minorities,” the congresswomen said.

Freshman congresswoman Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) joined long-time powerhouses Reps. Maxine Waters (D-Ca.) and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), in signing the letter.

“I respect that the military wants uniformity, but to go so far as to stipulate the exact width of a braid is taking it too far. My hope is that the Army will reevaluate this regulation with more sensitivity to the traditional hairstyles worn by women of color,” Kelly said in an email response about the letter.

So far, there’s been no public response from Hagel.

“It would be inappropriate for me to comment on the secretary’s correspondence; he responds directly to correspondence received,” Joy Crabaugh, a Pentagon spokesman, said in an email.

Jacobs has not heard from Army officials even though Time, USA Today, NPR, MSNBC, and News One have interviewed her on the hair controversy.

Still, she is optimistic that something will be done to overturn a regulation that she says strips African-American female soldiers of options to wear their hair in a “healthy” manner, while keeping it in its “natural” state.

“My hope, of course, is that the regulations will be revised and [the Army] will consider women of color and figure out a way for them to stay in the military and wear their natural hair in a professional manner,” Jacobs told me in a telephone interview on Thursday.

“I honestly think we are going to get something close to that. When Congress starts asking the secretary of defense to look at these regulations, that will result in action.”

Jacobs said other congressmen, including her own, Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), have indicated they would send a letter to the secretary of defense, as well.

Meanwhile, although Jacobs is getting support from some members of Congress, she also is hearing from critics who accuse her of asking for special treatment.

“It’s always interesting to hear that,” she told me. “When I joined the military, I wore my hair in twists and six years later these rules change. White females can wear their hair as it naturally is. We want to be able to wear our hair professionally as it naturally is, the way other females are able to wear their natural hair.”

Although straight hair, weaves and wigs remain popular, more black women choose to wear natural hairstyles to either avoid damaging healthy hair, or because they are trying to restore hair damaged by chemical relaxers.

The Army’s 670-1 grooming regulation is an embarrassing misstep when it comes to African-American women. Officials might as well admit it and move on.

You can view the petition at: You can view the petition at: petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/reconsider-changes-ar-670-1-allow-professional-ethnic-hairstyles/BnR900wx.

Email: marym@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MaryMitchellCST



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