Ethicalego (Kenneth Brooks) discusses current events from a critical thinking perspective rarely expressed elsewhere
The U.S Navy discharged a sailor for refusing to cut off her natural tight-curly hair or cover it with a wig. Jessica Sims had been a sailor for 12-years. She wore the same style since 2005 without problems. However, the Department of Defense (DOD) issued new hairstyle regulations in March that mostly centered on the natural tight-curly hair texture styles. It prohibited dreadlocks and twisted, matted hair as unkempt, but allowed cornrows as long as they were conservative. Sims said that her hair swept into a bun met the two-inch regulations and that she could don a gas mask without leakage. Nevertheless, the Navy discharged her for “failing to obey an order when she refused to cut her hair, straighten it, or wear a straight wig.
Dr. Kristie Mitchell is another former member of U.S. Armed Forces troubled by the new DOD hair regulations. She had been a Major in the U.S. Army as a psychiatrist. She reported having to change from neat natural tight-curly hairstyles to those more like straight hairstyles. She complied with the regulations by cutting her hair. However, she found the experience humiliating having to style her hair short like a man, use hazardous chemicals or use hot irons to straighten her hair. DOD regulations describing “dreadlocks” and “twisted styles as unkempt were particularly demeaning. The restricted hairstyle regulations motivated her to leave military service although she previously found treating military members rewarding.
The DOD regulation describing tight-curly hairstyles as unkempt is an example of the many seemingly innocuous attacks on self-image endured by Americans society classifies a black-race minority. This particular type attack is not new. DOD reintroduced or continued them from the 1960s when military and civilian authorities used them against black-race-labeled Americans.
Those attacks were and are against the self-image of an oppressed group of people and not about the hair in and of itself. Society should not deny opportunity for employment and education to people or general acceptance in society unless they reject their natural physical traits as unattractive.
At one time society considered American females with dark-brown skin coloring and tight-curly hair unattractive unless they straightened their hair with heat or chemicals. Members of oppressed groups that adopt their oppressors’ image for a standard of attractiveness have been demoralized.They are unlikely to achieve personal autonomy. They lose all sense of personal identity when the self-described “white majority” names them its “black minority” foil. A foil is anything that serves by contrast to call attention to another group or item’s good qualities.
The, “I’m black and I’m proud” movement of the 1960s suggested an evolving sense of self-determination among society’s oppressed black-race-labeled Americans. I never accepted “black” to describe my dark-brown skin color, nor for a racial identity. Nevertheless, change requires a beginning. People’s new awareness of their physical attractiveness and dignity was the beginning of change no matter how they labeled it. They expressed their new self-determined identity with natural tight-curly hairstyles in place of artificially straightened hair. American society responded to this self-determined image as an attack on its values. DOD, civilian employers, school authorities and law enforcement treated tight-curly hairstyles as belligerence they must suppress.
Earth’s life forms mostly change slowly over time and not suddenly over weeks. This rule proved true for a high percent of the 1960-70 era claims of “black” pride and self-determination. Many of them yielded to the social and economic pressure, exclusion and threats to employment, and reverted to straight-hairstyles. Others had only donned the new hairstyles as a fad. Not fully convinced of the physical attractiveness of their natural features they returned to straight-hairstyles. The mass reversion to a confused, demoralized view of self by so many people saddened me. I doubted that a second awakening would happen during my lifetime.
Decades later, a growing number of self-determined individuals show ownership of their self-images like those people that persisted from earlier times. They are not a movement. Instead, they are autonomous persons aware of the attractiveness of their physical traits and of nature’s many attractive combinations of human body, skin color, and hair textures.
This month, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel ordered changes in the enforcement of the hair regulations to allow female service members to have a wider range of hairstyles. Perhaps remarks of service members like Sims and Mitchell influenced this decision. Maybe President Obama, Commander in Chief expressed an opinion.
Nevertheless, the Navy found that Sims hair still violated their guidelines and that she had disobeyed an order.
Note: All opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and not necessarily those of the Vallejo Independent Bulletin.