Pentagon: Army to review controversial ban on twists, other natural hairstyles

The Pentagon said Tuesday that the military would review controversial grooming policies that led some to accuse the Army of racial bias.

Grooming guidelines released in late March, known as Army Regulation 670-1, included rules on hair grooming. Among the “unauthorized styles” were natural hairstyles popular among African American women, including twists. A White House petition, asking the Army to reconsider the ban, gathered more than 10,000 signatures.

(Courtesy U.S. Army)

Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, announced the impending review at a regular briefing Tuesday.

From the transcript:

ADM. KIRBY: Finally, I have an update for those of you who have been covering congressional — concerns from congressional members about grooming regulations for African American females, and if you’ll allow me to put my spectacles on, I’ll read this. He just sent a letter to the Hill just today –

Q: Who did?

ADM. KIRBY: Secretary [Chuck] Hagel — sorry — sent a letter to the Hill today directing the deputy secretary of defense to work with the service secretaries and military chiefs to review their respective policies to address the issues raised by members of Congress about grooming standards, particularly for African American females. So within the next 30 days, each service will review the definitions of authorized and prohibited hairstyles contained in each of their respective policies and revise any offensive language.

Number two, during the next three months, each service will review their hairstyle policies 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.

And he said after he gets — after he gets these reviews, after a thorough review of the service recommendations, he will make whatever appropriate adjustments to DOD policies are necessary.

Last month’s release of the guidelines sparked criticism among some African American women for being culturally insensitive and failing to acknowledge different hairstyle textures and preferences.

The women members of the Congressional Black Caucus sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel asking that the regulations be reconsidered.

Chairwoman Marcia Fudge (D-OH) welcomed the review.

“I want to thank Secretary Hagel for his thoughtful response to the concerns of Members of the Congressional Black Caucus and to many women of color currently serving in our Armed Forces. 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. Secretary Hagel also assured us that the Army’s intent with AR 670-1 was not to offend or discriminate against women of color,” she wrote in a statement. “Members of the CBC appreciate Secretary Hagel for his prompt response to our letter and for seriously considering our concerns. Secretary Hagel’s response affirms his commitment to ensuring all individuals are welcomed and can continue to be proud of serving in our Armed Forces.”

Sgt. Jasmine Jacobs, who started a White House petition that garnered some 16,000 signatures called the move a good first step. Her first reaction when contacted by a reporter about the change was: “Wow.”

“It’s inspiring to know that the secretary of defense is getting behind something and it goes to show that the regulations are absurd when it comes to African American women,” Jacobs, who wears her hair in two stranded twists and is a member of  the Georgia National Guard in an interview. “The fact that Hagel is calling for a review means there might be a way to revise these guidelines and come to some common ground.”

She said that there a lot of African American woman felt like nothing could change, but seeing the women members of the Congressional Black Caucus and now Hagel respond to criticism has made a difference.

“This is empowering for women in the military,” she said.