I am proud to be an American and I feel very grateful to the men and women of the U.S. military who sacrifice their physical health, mental health, lives and limbs to keep us safe. My heart goes out to the victims of the Fort Hood massacre and my prayers are with them and all military families.
Given the fact that military men and women sacrifice so much, I believe that all members of the military regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation deserve to be honored and respected. Sadly, black women of the U.S. army who choose not wear weaves or wigs and also choose not to use heat or chemical relaxers to straighten their own naturally kinky hair are being severely dishonored and disrespected by Army Regulation 670-1 which bans a number of traditional hairstyles for afro-textured hair.
The regulations reveal such a deeply entrenched European standard of beauty, grooming and acceptability that it is shocking that that any diverse focus group could have approved the regulations. The Congressional Black Caucus has issued a letter to that effect. The regulations are so burdensome for women with afro-textured hair that it is as if black service women are being told that they have to "look more like white women," by straightening their hair, in order to be acceptable.
Most people of Sub-Saharan African descent have hair that grows up and out, not straight down. The afros that were popular during the '60s and '70s did not disappear because black people experienced a genetic mutation during the '80s. That is still how our hair naturally grows out of our scalps! Many African-American men have simply decided to wear their hair very short and many African-American women have opted to wear wigs and weaves and or to straighten their afros by using heat or chemical relaxers. Heat and chemical relaxers can sometimes cause hair breakage. Additionally, chemical relaxers can cause scalp burns and they have been linked to early puberty, fibroids and other reproductive disorders. That said, some African-American women choose not to straighten their hair. Those women, myself included, would not be able to achieve more than two inches of hair growth without violating the rule that states that bulk of hair may not exceed two inches from the scalp. Our hair grows up and out and so our hair is, in essence, all bulk from the scalp! For multiple reasons, it is often challenging to get such bulky hair into a bun, which is the way that many non-black female soldiers wear their hair.
Some say that the rule regarding "bulk" of hair has been promulgated to ensure that helmets fit well. If that is the concern, thankfully there are styles that reduce the bulk of afro-textured hair. These styles include cornrows, twists and dreadlocks. Such hairstyles also present another advantage; they protect afro-textured hair from over-combing.
Please note that afro-textured strands of hair resemble a spiral or helix. Using a comb on such coil-like hair multiple times a day may be problematic because each turn of the coil presents an opportunity for the hair to break off. For that reason, many African-American women choose to put their hair in protective styles which do not require combing for a week or longer. Age-old protective styling methods include twists and cornrows as well as the long-term protective style, dreadlocks. Such styles seem like a win-win because they provide protection from hair breakage and reduce bulk to facilitate various types of head equipment. Guess what other hairstyles are banned by the army? Twists, multiple cornrows that exceed a quarter-inch in diameter (who carries a ruler with them when they are doing their hair?) and dreadlocks.
What hairstyles are left? This is precisely the question that E-4 Vincinta Moody in the Army Reserves is asking herself. She loves being in the Army Reserves and believes that the program is crucial for her success in life and her ability to further her education. But, for health and aesthetic reasons she chooses not to straighten or relax her hair and she wears her hair in locks.
"Given the new guidelines, I will either have to shave off all of my hair or start wearing wigs. Why should I have to do that? Why am I different from anybody else?" asked Ms. Moody during a phone interview.
Ms. Vincinta Moody
Sergeant Jasmine Jacobs started a petition to protest the regulations because she is in a similarly difficult situation. She wears her hair in two strand twists and says that it is a go-to style for black female soldiers in the field because it is easy to maintain. She may also have to cut her hair, straighten her hair or wear wigs in order to maintain her good standing in the army.
The outstanding service of black women in the military since the Civil War is well-documented. Moreover, the culture of black women in the military has become an area of study because of the exceedingly low rates of suicide among black women soldiers as compared to other demographic groups.
Clearly, black women in the army and their hair are worthy of respect -- not hair-bullying. When I wrote a children's book about self-love, love of others and hair-acceptance, Sunne's Gift: How Sunne Overcame Bullying to Reclaim God's Gift, I would never have thought that my own government would so desperately need the book's message. Sunne's Gift teaches us that we all lose when people are bullied. Let's not weaken our armed services by alienating some of its most capable members, black women. Please sign this petition to protest the Army Regulation 670-1.