The Pentagon is more concerned with enforcing a racist policy aimed at African-American female military personnel than addressing the Army's suicide epidemic among soldiers.
Earlier this month, the Army banned hairstyles typically worn by black women — twists, dreadlocks, and large cornrows. Sixteen African-American congresswomen — including our own Democratic representative, Frederica Wilson — recently signed a letter urging Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to reconsider the ban. Surprisingly, Michelle Obama hasn't said anything about it. She should be raising hell. The first lady knows how difficult it is for a black woman to manage her hair.
The Army's decision shows how generals are out of touch with the men and women who fight for this country. The banned hairstyles are not about making a fashion statement. Black women who braid their hair or pin it back do so out of necessity. When African-American female soldiers have to get up at 5 a.m. for physical training, they can't worry about primping. When they are in a war, they don't have time to fuss over straightening their kinky locks.
Putting their hair in cornrows, twists, or buns allows them to move quicker and stay cooler. That's why black female athletes such as Olympic gold medalists Sanya Richards-Ross (track and field) and Gabby Douglas (gymnastics) pull their hair back. If they didn't, it would turn into a tangly mess from all the movement and sweat. It's not about looking cute.
Yet the Army is essentially telling black female soldiers that to be accepted, they need to shave their heads like Demi Moore's character in the movie G.I. Jane. The Pentagon certainly won't pay for a hairstylist on base for the thousands of servicewomen who most likely enlisted because they're poor and can't go to college.
Meanwhile, a March study by the National Institute of Mental Health shows that suicide rates have soared among soldiers, not only those who went to war in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also those who were never deployed. In 2012, the most recent year available, 350 servicepeople died by their own hand. Military leaders should focus on preventing more soldiers from killing themselves. But they're too busy enforcing racist rules.
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