Army's ban on dreadlocks; other styles seen as offensive to some African-Americans

Army says the regulations are needed to maintain a professional, uniform look among soldiers

4/8/2014, 1:32 p.m.
The U.S. Army's new ban on many types of ethnic hairstyles has African-American women who wear their coifs in dreadlocks, ...
Spc. Patricia Mathis, 506th Quartermaster Co., 18th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 16th Sustainment Brigade, does push-ups during the Army physical fitness test portion of the 3rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command's "Sustainer Challenge" at Joint Base Balad March 18.

Straighter hair, lighter skin and features that looked white were considered preferred traits, African-American scholars noted.

Those values were internalized and perpetuated within the black community for years in a way that was particularly damaging to the self-esteem of black women, African American scholars said.

"The gender dynamic here is also important; hair is so tied to the idea of black womanhood and self-esteem," Neal said. "There have been many stories, for example, of the extra scrutiny black women with locs or dreads face going through airport security. The Army's ban is just another knock from the dominant society that somehow black women are out of step with the so-called status quo."

Black pride and natural hair movements have emphasized that all hair types and the rainbow of skin hues are all beautiful.

However, the Army's regulations, some natural hair advocates and African American scholars fear, might suggest to black soldiers that their tresses must be straightened or closely cropped in order to fit in and be valued.

That type of pressure is "both unfair and racially biased," said Imani Perry, an African-American studies professor at Princeton University.

"While it is reasonable for the military to expect some degree of conformity and neatness in hairstyles, those expectations ought to take into account the variety of natural hair textures people have," Perry said. "For many African-American women who have tightly curled, coily or kinky hair, cornrows braids and locs are styles that allow for ease of close to the head grooming. Hence, banning those hairstyles puts black female soldiers in a difficult bind with respect to the requirement."

That type of pressure is "both unfair and racially biased," Perry said adding that the Army conformity isn't absolute because female soldiers are allowed to wear their hair long.

"Likewise, consideration ought to be made for different textures of hair," Perry said. "Otherwise, a burden is placed disproportionately upon some soldiers due to an immutable characteristic, natural hair texture that is tied to race."