Pentagon to Review New Hairstyle Rules for 'Cultural Sensitivity'

Tuesday, 29 Apr 2014 08:13 PM

By Cathy Burke

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Nearly three weeks after the Congressional Black Caucus railed at an Army clampdown on women's hairstyles, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced a review of the restrictions on braids, cornrows, dreadlocks and twists.

In a letter to Iowa Democratic Rep. Marcia Flake Tuesday, Hagel assured the caucus chairwoman the new policy on grooming and appearance, which went into effect in March, wasn't meant to "discriminate or disparage" any service member, but that he'd ordered a review and would "make appropriate adjustments," the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported.

The reply came in a response to a letter that Rep. Marcia Fudge, an Ohio Democrat and chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, and other caucus women sent Hagel blasting the regulations as racially discriminatory and "targeting soldiers who are women of color with little regard to what is needed to maintain their natural hair."

The women slammed the use of terms like "unkempt" and "matted" the new rules used when referring to hairstyles commonly worn by women of color, The Plain Dealer noted.

"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," Fudge's April 10 letter stated.

In addition, thousands of soldiers signed a White House petition demanding President Barack Obama rescind the new hairstyle regulations.

In a Pentagon release, Hagel said he'd given the services 30 days to review the definitations of authorized and banned hairstyles ... "and revise any offensive language."

He also gave the services 90 days to review hairstyle policies specifically pertaining to black women "to ensure standards are fair and respectful of our diverse force, while also meeting our military services’ requirements," Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said in the release.

"After a thorough review of the service recommendations, [Hagel] will make whatever appropriate adjustments to DOD policy are necessary.”

Fudge was pleased with the response, The Plain Dealer reported, saying it affirms Hagel's "commitment to ensuring all individuals are welcomed and can continue to be proud of serving in our Armed Forces."

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