By now, you are probably well aware of the infamous Army Regulation 670-1 that was introduced in March 2014. If you’re not, check out the video snippet from The Daily Show explaining to a white man how the new regulation complicates life for the black female soldiers.
It’s funny, smart, and honest. This new policy not only covered uniform wear, grooming, and tattoos, but it also covered hairstyles. You can’t possibly discuss hair without talking “black hair”. And I must say, it really irks my nerves when policies leave naturalistas confused and frustrated. I am happy to report that changes to the policy were recently released. But before I go over the new policies, let me give you a breakdown of why Army Regulation 670-1 was problematic.
The Back Story – Why Reg 670-1 Unfairly Singled Out Black Women
The policy 670-1 identified army-approved hairstyles that directly affected women of color. It prevented locs, twists, twist outs, and afros from being considered acceptable. The approved hairstyles were relaxed hair, wigs, weaves, small braids, or cornrows with a specific spacing of ¼ diameter size. (sighs) Soooo, the easy styles for natural women were pretty much unacceptable. And let me tell you, reading through the official documents I thought, “Wow! They have pages dedicated to explaining the natural styles that are unauthorized.” There’s no way to misinterpret the new regulations, and these guidelines put many natural black women in an awkward space.
Just to clarify, locs and twists have been banned since 2005, but there was no specificity on appearance as stated in the March 2014 policy. With the release of the regulation in March 2014, the military was very specific on what they would allow. For soldiers that were able to manage their natural hair via twists, they now had to think hard about what styles were within the specific guidelines.
Naturally, people of color were offended and outraged immediately after its release. Would you blame them? This understandably caused many soldiers to spend more time or money on keeping their hair in approved styles. Not everyone can cornrow to the gods or do their own sew-in. The thought of wearing a wig seems uncomfortable if you’re in the field. And relaxers are just painful. For those who choose to wear their styles in the approved list, fine. But it’s a little upsetting that one particular group of soldiers have to go the EXTRA, EXTRA mile just to stay within guidelines. And these extra miles make it harder to wear your natural hair that grows from your scalp. Meanwhile, the other group of soldiers can wear their hair in its natural state without much concern. Good grief, it just sounds to me like they don’t want women of color in the military anymore. Jim Crow, anyone?
The New Changes & Negative Comments from Non-Blacks
I’m not trying to sound extreme with the Jim Crow reference, but it’s pretty obvious that people of color are singled out in the new regulation. Luckily, soldiers let their voices be heard through a White House petition. And boy, oh boy were they heard!
Sgt. Jasmine Jacobs created the petition and it states how the new guidelines are racially biased. And yes… it was very biased. For the past three months, the Navy, Army, and Air Force met to redefine what was acceptable while remaining fair and within military standards. This led to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s announcement on August 11th, 2014. You can view the official document here. In addition to approving twists and larger braids, they also removed offensive descriptors such as “Matted and unkempt” and considering “twists” as faddish on the website. Length of hair is still in regulation, which makes perfect sense.
Although this is great news, it was hard not to take a glance at some of the comments from non-black females on the army blog. Reading the comments that the black soldiers were whining or the comparisons to men with long hair or soldiers with tattoos made me realize that people still don’t get it. By people, I mean non-blacks and men. And no, I don’t mean all but a large portion of them. When we want equal rights of wearing our natural hair like everyone in the military or ANYWHERE, some people think we are whining. Really? But didn’t the military whine about needing more soldiers to fight their wars? When will people realize that black hair is NOT the same as straight and “silky” hair? We don’t want special treatment – just acknowledge the fact that it’s different and act accordingly. My goodness! You want to write grooming policies, fine. Just take into consideration that people of color have hair that grows differently and is managed differently than people with straight hair. We care about appearance and want to make sure we are appropriate in the field too, you know.
This is definitely a victory because it offers soldiers choices and gives them the freedom to wear their natural hair without over-emphasis on specific styles, just like other soldiers. Hmmm… sounds like equality, imagine that.
What are your thoughts on the updates to the army regs and the situation as a whole? Leave a comment and let us know how you feel about natural hair and military regulations.