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3806When Black Hair Is Against the Rules - NYTimes.com

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  • AKOH ASA'NA
    May 2, 2014
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      When Black Hair Is Against the Rules - NYTimes.com

      When Black Hair Is Against the Rules

      AMERICA has always had trouble with black hair. The United States Army is only the latest in a long line of institutions, corporations and schools to restrict it. On March 31, the Army released an updated appearance and grooming policy, known as AR 670-1. It applies to all Army personnel, including students at West Point and those serving in the R.O.T.C. and the National Guard.

      No distinctions are made for race or ethnicity, only gender, in that the regulations regarding hair are divided between women and men. But it’s not hard to infer that certain sections pertain specifically to black women, since they refer to hairstyles like cornrows, braids, twists and dreadlocks, severely limiting or banning them outright.

      While the Army certainly isn’t the first to impose these kinds of prohibitions, it may be the most egregious example, considering that the 26,000 black women affected by AR 670-1 are willing to die for their country. On Tuesday, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel ordered the entire military to review its hairstyle rules, after the women of the Congressional Black Caucus sent him a letter saying that the Army policy’s language was “offensive” and “biased” and strongly urging him to reconsider it. More than 17,000 people signed a petition submitted to WhiteHouse.gov asking the Obama administration to review the policy.

      The bias against black hair is as old as America itself. In the 18th century, British colonists classified African hair as closer to sheep wool than human hair. Enslaved and free blacks who had less kinky, more European-textured hair and lighter skin — often a result of plantation rape — received better treatment than those with more typically African features.

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