By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
If a person is patriotic enough to want to serve in the U.S. military, does it matter how their hair looks?
U.S. Rep. Yvette D. Clarke says it shouldn’t be a factor.
Clarke (D-Brownsville-Crown Heights) has requested that the Pentagon suspend enforcement of regulations that prohibit many hairstyles worn by African-American women until a review ordered by Secretary of Defense Charles Hagel has been completed.
The regulations limit braids to one-fourth of an inch in width and one-eighth of an inch in length and prohibit wearing more than two flat braids. The Huffington Post reported back in April that many African-American women in the military complained that the new rules are racially biased.
In a letter to Hagel and Secretary of the Army John McHugh, Clarke and 15 of her House colleagues explained that language included in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015, directed the armed forces to delay implementation of the regulations and an evaluation of the effect the restrictions would have on women of color and on the free exercise of religion.
“The enforcement of these rules prior to a comprehensive evaluation by the Department of Defense creates a serious problem for women of color and women whose faith dictates a particular hairstyle – a dilemma that we could avoid entirely by suspending enforcement until the armed forces has completed its review,” Clarke said in a statement.
“The regulations are based on the false assumption that only certain hairstyles are ‘natural’ and that others are ‘unkempt.’ This assumption fails to account for the diversity of our military. We have asked only that the armed forces provide reasonable accommodation for ethnic and religious hairstyles that have not adversely impacted readiness,” Clarke said.
The letter was also signed by congress members Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, Raul M. Grijalva, Charles B. Rangel, Barbara Lee, Madeleine Z. Bordallo, Bobby L. Rush, Andre Carson, Gwen Moore, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Corrine Brown, Stanford Bishop, Frederica S. Wilson, Sheila Jackson-Lee, Robin Kelly and Marc Veasey.
Clarke is a member of the House Committee on Small Business, Ethics, and Homeland Security. She is the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies.