Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has seen many rows of corn in his native Nebraska, but perhaps not enough cornrows. The Army has new hairstyle restrictions that black female soldiers say unfairly target them, prompting the 16 women of the Congressional Black Caucus to demand that Hagel reconsider the regulations. He should.
In updating a prior ban on dreadlocks, the new rules now also ban braids or cornrows “that are unkempt or matted.” The word “unkempt” struck some black women as insensitive to people with coarse hair, and the new definition of acceptable cornrows does sound patronizing: Cornrows now must be tightly rolled, allow no more than one-eighth of an inch of scalp between the rows, and “must start at the front of head and continue in one direction in a straight line and end at a consistent location of the head.”
All militaries seek a uniform look, but no force in the world is as diverse as that of the United States. Its hair policy should reflect that diversity. A third of active-duty Army women are black, and they have served with distinction wearing a variety of cornrows, twists, and braids. The Army should not twist itself into knots devising solutions for problems that don’t exist.