Tag Archives: discrimination

Is the US Military Discriminating against Black Women with Natural Hair?

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Image released by US Army

Pictures 1-3, released by the US Army.

New appearance standards were recently released by the US Army, aimed to standardize and professionalized soldiers. However, some African-American military women have spoken out in criticism against the changes. A White House petition was commissioned and sent to President Barrack Obama. It received more than 11 000 signatures in the hope that these rules will be reviewed.

So which regulations may be considered discriminatory?

Twists

Twists are banned as they are considered faddish. Section 3-2(d) states:

Examples of hairstyles considered to be faddish or exaggerated and thus not authorized for wear while in uniform, or in civilian clothes on duty, include, but are not limited to, locks and twists (not including French rolls/twists or corn rows); hair sculpting (eccentric directional flow, twists, texture, or spiking); buns or braids with loose hair extending at the end; multiple braids not braided in a straight line; hair styles with severe angles; and loose unsecured hair (not to include bangs) when medium and long hair are worn up.

Hence a hairstyle similar to the one in picture 3 will not be permitted.

Cornrows

Cornrows are allowed but must be small, approximately 1/4 inch in diameter and show no more than 1/8 inch of the scalp between cornrows. Cornrows must start at the front of the head and continue in one direction in a straight line.  I suspect this is to prevent variations of styles, the extreme being  zigzags or squiggly lines.

Dreadlocks

Dreadlocks are banned outright under section 3-2 (h) which states:

Dreadlocks are defined as any matted, twisted, or locked coils or ropes of hair (or extensions). Any style of dreadlocks (against the scalp or free-hanging) is not authorized. Braids or cornrows that are unkempt or matted are considered dreadlocks and are not authorized.

Unfortunately they are automatically deemed unsuitable, perhaps this is due to the headgear.  All headgear must fit snugly and comfortably without bulging or distorting the shape of the headgear. Hair should not protrude from under the edges at different angles.  Hairstyles that prevent the headgear from being worn in this manner are banned.  Dreadlocks may simply be considered to look unprofessional.  There is no provision in the regulations to look at each case individually.

Image

 

Wigs and hair extensions

Wigs and hair extensions are authorized but must ‘look natural’ and have the same appearance as the person’s natural hair. Does this mean  platinum blond, super silky weaves are banned for most black women? (I hope so).

Braids

These are permitted for medium to long hair. Multiple braids are allowed but must be small (1/4 inch), uniformed and braided tightly for neatness. The hair must also be braided fully and styled according to the medium to long hair guidelines (e.g. neatly fastened or pinned).

In conclusion; some of the essential means of styling natural hair; involving twists and dreadlocks, are banned according to these regulations. Furthermore, section 3-2(c) states that:

No portion of the bulk of the hair, as measured from the scalp, will exceed 2
inches (except a bun, which may extend a maximum of 3 inches from the scalp) and be no wider than the width of the head

For a woman with short to medium length natural hair, who is not allowed to put their hair in twists, this may present a problem. Afro textured hair grows upwards, so the longer it grows the bulkier it becomes.  The good news is braids and cornrows of a particular style are allowed.

African-American women make up a third of the armed forces, some believe they have been singled out by these regulations. “I think it primarily targets black women, and I’m not in agreement with it.  I don’t see how a woman wearing three braids in her hair, how it affects her ability to perform her duty in the military” says Patricia Jackson-Kelley of the National Association of Black Military Women.

Doris Richardson WWII Veteran US Army 1943-1945

Doris Richardson
WWII Veteran
US Army 1943-1945

There has also been much debate about this in online forums. One of the top comments on Yahoo stated:

Just in case anyone did not notice the first picture, the woman with the three braids, her hair is straight and could belong to a woman of any nationality, including a Caucasian woman. The third hair style, the twists are larger than 1/4 inch and do not lay flat against her head. The twists are not uniform and are raised up towards the crown of her head, which will interfere with the proper fit of her headgear. All three of these hairstyles are inappropriate, do not look neat, professional or natural and were even banned when I was in the military between 1978-1983. – Karen

Some commentators have said it is simply a matter of safety and uniformity, the same reader wrote:

“I’m sure careful thought to safety and years of deliberation went into the formulation of these regulations. I would bet there were numerous accidents that occurred because of improper fitting of headgear due to hairstyles, that led to these changes.”

Whatever the motive behind these changes, they may cause some women with natural hair to wonder if they are at a disadvantage, simply because they embrace their natural hair texture. Many would have considered it professional to put their hair in twists and pin it down, out of the way. But according to the regulations and comments online, it looks unprofessional.   America is a country with a variety of cultures and people, if this is reflected in the Army, they can’t all look the same. However, I understand the need for uniformity and standards.  Women with relaxed hair or those that wear European wigs and weaves  are unlikely to be affected by these changes or labelled unprofessional.

There is still a lot of ignorance about natural hair, simply because society still isn’t used to seeing black woman with their natural hair texture.  Although the number of women going natural is increasing, over 60% of women in American still relax their hair. It is a process that may take decades of education to change.  Speaking up against any form of discrimination is a step in the right direction.

Many argue that  these new army regulations affect different groups of people, not just black women.  The changes also address male haircuts,  body piercings and tattoos. There are also regulations about makeup and jewelry.

I hope black women in the US Army will not resort  to using relaxers for fear of violating these regulations and that any concerns they have are taken seriously.

Do you think these rules are discriminatory against African-American women with natural hair? If you are in the military, do these changes affect you?  Please share your thoughts below.

 

Sources

Army regulations on hair and appearance

http://usarmy.vo.llnwd.net/e2/c/downloads/337951.pdf

Army personal appearance policy

http://1.usa.gov/1ilibHL

 

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Faith Christian Academy in Orlando threatens student with expulsion for wearing her natural hair

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‘Here we go again…….’, was my initial thought when I heard this story. Why does this keep happening to the children? Recently, there was the story of the young girl at Deborah Brown Community School in Tulsa, who was told by a black administration, that her dreadlocks were unacceptable, now this.

Faith Christian Academy in Orlando, Florida has reportedly labelled Vanessa VanDyke’s hair a “distraction.” They allegedly said, she must cut and shape it or she will not be allowed to continue her studies. Their dress code policy simply states that; “hair must be a natural color and must not be a distraction.”

Vanessa went to the school for help after experiencing bullying because of her hair, sadly instead of showing Christian compassion towards her, they reinforced the message of the bullies by telling her that her hair was unacceptable and threatened her with expulsion.

Faith Christian Academy is a private school, it seems that sending your child to private school or a school that is predominately black doesn’t necessarily protect them from discrimination. Sadly, in some cases, it may make discrimination more likely.

Vanessa VanDyke is a beautiful young lady who has a great attitude about her natural hair. “It says that I’m unique,” “First of all, it’s puffy and I like it that way; she says.  “I know people will tease me about it because it’s not straight. I don’t fit in.”

In a world where the majority of black women feel the need to chemically straighten their hair, or wear weaves, not as an occasional styling choice, but as a necessity, it is good to see a young lady who is confidently embracing her natural hair texture.  She is simply wearing her hair out, just like a girl with straight hair, wears it down.  Yes natural hair can be worn conservatively away from the face, such as in a bun or puff. However, this young lady has been told that only a hair cut or straight hair would be acceptable.  Reportedly, Vanessa VanDyke, has until the end of the week to adhere to the school’s demands. Unless the girls with long straight hair, who wear their hair down have been given the same ultimatum, this constitutes discrimination.  If a child with ginger hair was being bullied, would the school label their hair a distraction and tell them to dye it?

Natural hair is not a hair style. It is simply leaving your hair the way God made it. Surely as a Christian school; Faith Christian Academy would teach their students that God made no mistakes. Yet they are telling this young lady that her natural hair is a mistake and must be corrected through artificial means.

What are your thoughts on this story? Is the school at fault? Could it be that people still aren’t use to seeing black women with their natural hair texture?

UPDATE: the school has issued a statement saying that they will no longer expel Vanessa because of her hair but they require that she wear it in a more conservative way. Here is the link to the updated story: http://www.clickorlando.com/news/orlando-private-school-wont-expel-africanamerican-girl-over-hair/-/1637132/23173004/-/1hgfb7z/-/index.html

Afro Puffs and Braids banned, says Ohio School

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Afro Puff

Afro Puff

Check out the story originally posted in BGLH

Horizon Science Academy in Ohio recently released their school policy on dress code. See the letter to parents below and the outline of their dress code policy.  It states that afro puffs and ‘small twisted braids’ are against school policy. It’s clear that this policy directly addresses the  parents of African American girls in the school. It is effectively banning these girls from wearing the equivalent of a ponytail for afro textured hair, or one of the most convenient protective styles. So what is the alternative? This reinforces the myth that straight, relaxed or pressed hair is superior to curly, kinky afro textured hair. In 2013, the misconception of natural afro hair being unkempt still exists. In recent years there has been a 30 per cent increase in the number of African American women wearing their hair natural. The sale of relaxers has decreased also. However clearly, there is still a long way to go before attitudes towards natural hair improve both in the black community and outside.

letter of schoolpolicy

This story is nothing new, last year  Hampton University in Virginia banned braids and dreadlocks in their dress code. But what is particularly upsetting about this story is that it involves young girls of school age.  They are already facing discrimination and being singled out for leaving their hair natural and not succumbing to chemical relaxers or pressing irons at such a young age. This policy reinforces the idea that to be taken seriously and to be seen as professional, your hair must be straight. It’s interesting that one of the reasons cited for the policy was to:  diminish economic and social barriers between students. Well Horizon Science Academy, African American girls should not have to wear their hair straight to fit in with the other students in the school. Wearing their hair in braids or simply putting their hair up in puff does not create social barriers. A negative attitude towards others who are different and discrimination creates social barriers.  Also, singling out African American girls for the way they wear their natural hair doesn’t increase ‘a sense of belonging or pride’ for their school.

Chemically relaxing or  constantly flat ironing a young girl’s hair isn’t healthy. The school’s policy is conflicting as it requests that hair must ‘look natural’.  Making it harder for black girls to wear their hair in its natural state (by banning the main styling options) is simply discrimination. It would be just like banning ‘straight ponytails’. It’s ridiculous and unnecessary.

Please note that Horizon Science Academy is reviewing their dress code policy since being made aware of the reaction to it from the natural hair community.   Check out their Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/theconceptschools

Check out the letter from Horizon School, addressing their ‘draft’ policy.

What do you think about this story? Share your thoughts below.

Does hair typing set us back?

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I have never been overly concerned about what my hair type was. However I do consider it useful information when learning how best to manage my hair. For example I knew that certain styles demonstrated by bloggers would not necessarily turn out the same with my hair and I would have to adapt them accordingly. Also, when it came to my hair care regiment I was able to develop techniques that worked best for my hair type. I understood that not every method would work the same with my hair.

However what happens when hair typing becomes detrimental to the way you see your hair or to the way other people respond to you. Have we just replaced the derogatory terms ‘good hair’ and ‘bad hair’ with type 3 and type 4 hair. Unfortunately this is the negative result of hair typing and I think it is becoming more and more evident.

There are a few hair typing systems. One of the most popular ones is the one formed by celebrity hairstylist Andre Walker. Have a look at the diagram below:

While this information can be useful it should not be used as a ranking of good to not so good. We must respect the fact that natural hair is very diverse. Some women don’t have one hair type overall, their hair may be made up of a combination of the different hair types. So not everyone fits into a particular box  of a certain hair type.

Esperanza Spalding
4a

Shingai Shoniwa
4b hair

We spend a lot of money on curl enhancing creams, puddings and serums. When the fact is if the curls aren’t there to begin with they are not magically going to appear just because you apply these  products.  Rather than being disappointed, a person in this position should accept their hair the way it is and focus on the many of styling options that are available to them to create curls and waves. I hope these products haven’t become the new ‘creamy crack’. I dread to think that another woman would look down on someone with hair that is say 4b as opposed to the more curl defining hair types. Corinne Bailey Rae and Tracee Ellis Ross have stunning hair but they are not representative of everyone with natural hair,  when you consider the shear diversity of natural hair. Other hair types are just as stunning but in a different way, neither one is superior or better. If you fall into the trap of thinking like that you need to remember why you went natural in the first place. For many of us  it was to be free from the pressure to conform to what society typically states is beautiful and to embrace our natural beauty.

Debra Messing
3a hair

Keri Russell
3b Hair

I’ve heard horror stories of certain naturals attending hair care events and being told that their hair wasn’t kinky enough (simply because they were of mixed heritage) or being told that their hair was too kinky for the products on display and both were made to feel like they didn’t belong there.  Neither scenario is acceptable and is the result of nothing but ignorance and the same attitude people had about natural hair being inferior to straight flowing European hair. I know white women who use afro hair care products because they have very curly hair, would we turn them away just because they’re not black? That would be absurd.  Some of them can relate to us because they felt the pressure to straighten their hair for years. I have  also heard of some YouTube vloggers who have decided to close their accounts and delete their videos because of  a lack of interest in their channels.  They have claimed it is because they don’t have what is perceived as the ‘good hair’ type that usually is related to having super defined curls and really long hair.

We are supposed to be moving forward not replacing derogatory terms with different ones with the same sentiment.  More and more women are deciding to go natural, this is a good thing that should not be met with disappointment. If we accept that natural hair is diverse we can avoid this. The same applies to women who have relaxed hair, it all comes down to choice and it would be just as wrong to make someone feel inferior for having relaxed hair as well. Inspire them don’t bash them!

Alicia Keys
3c hair

What do you think about hair typing? Is it a good thing or has it set us back to where we were?

Natural hair in Nigeria – a review of the ‘Curls Allowed’ article written in the Guardian.

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While on the internet I came across an article by Monica Mark written for the Guardian Newspaper called Curls allowed? No say Nigerian women. Click here for the link to the original article.  Being Nigerian myself it immediately caught my attention.  We often talk about the challenges black women face living in a western society. Growing up in the UK,  I soon came to realise what was considered  beautiful and what was not. Of course women of all races grow up with insecurities but it certainly  didn’t help when every time you turned on the TV or opened a magazine there were very few representations of girls or women like yourself.

Children are very impressionable and when one of your favourite toys is a Barbie doll it isn’t long before you want to look like her.  It is not a person’s idea of beauty that’s the problem. There is nothing wrong with having a certain preference or individual taste. However, it’s when our idea of beauty causes us to be biased or discriminatory against others that don’t fit those ideals, that causes problems. If society dictates that long flowing hair is beautiful where does that leave those who have coily, kinky curly hair? As a result people who don’t fit the western ideas of beauty may end up being made to feel inferior or may even be discriminated against.

So it may come as a surprise to some people that these same ideas of beauty could exist in Africa and that African women face discrimination from other African women and men. The article by Monica Mark highlighted the attitudes in Nigeria towards women with natural hair. It was almost as if natural hair was considered to be uncivilised or unkept.  They refer to it as village hair for instance.   I remember when I first went natural, my mum presumed I didn’t have money to do my hair.  I often had to explain to people that my hairstyle was deliberate and no, my hair didn’t break off.  It was like they were conflicted because on one hand they would compliment me on how thick and healthy my hair looked but on the other hand they would still ask me when I was going to get my hair done. The funny thing was that having a really bad weave was acceptable but having your hair natural wasn’t.

Something that struck me from the article was a comparison made between the attitudes of South African and Nigerian women.  Salon owner Abogo Ugwokegbe said:

“South Africans like natural hair because they’re not fashion-conscious, but Nigerian women like the latest fashion,”

So having natural hair was not considered fashionable.  Perhaps it’s not that South African women are not fashion conscious but that they  are less ‘western conscious’.  When you consider the history of South Africa, it is understandable that the women want to embrace their identities as black women, natural hair and all, as opposed to seeing western culture and identity as superior.  That was the main point of the article. The fact that in Nigeria straight, European hair is considered better than kinky afro hair. The people interviewed in the article were brutally honest and extremely frank.  Getting a weave was considered essential in order to be taken seriously in the workplace and even to attract a future husband.

“No rich man will marry a girl with village [unstraightened] hair,” declared Esther, 18, a rural migrant to the capital, Abuja.

These attitudes exist because many see western culture (especially American culture) as superior and a step in the right direction.  For example many aspects of the American culture are copied, from music, fashion to even the accent. This includes the ‘western look’.  I think this is a shame. I believe people excel when they embrace who they are rather than trying to be carbon copies of others.   For example one thing they do well in Nigeria is braids. When I get braids done I like to go to an African hairdresser because I know that they will do it well.  Braids are a part of African culture and they are a good way of managing our hair. When other naturals were interviewed for this article, one of them explained how girls have never been taught how to manage their natural hair. I think this is definitely at the root of the problem.

We admire the convenience of other hair types and enjoy that convenience when we wear weaves and relax our hair. Of course the burnt scalps and the traction alopecia that some women experience, when these styles are not done safely or too much, certainly isn’t convenient.  It’s good to see more women going natural because it means that more of us will learn how to manage our hair and then teach it to our kids.  I personally don’t like to see western culture ( and usually the negative aspects) copied and replicated into a very poor version.   Articles like the one written in the Guardian will help to highlight these problems and encourage people to consider why these attitudes exist in Nigeria.

Follow the link and read it for yourself. What do you think about the attitudes towards natural hair? Where do you think these attitudes come from?