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Congresswoman Clarke Asks Armed Forces to Suspend Enforcement of Hairstyle Regulations

Brooklyn, N.Y. – Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke released the following statement on her request that the Armed Forces suspend enforcement of regulations that prohibit many hairstyles worn by women of color until a review ordered by Secretary of Defense Charles Hagel has been completed.

In the letter to Secretary Hagel and Secretary of the Army John McHugh, Congresswoman Clarke and fifteen of her colleagues explained that report language included in H.R. 4435, National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015, directed the Armed Forces to delay implementation of the regulations – which 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 – and evaluate the effect of these restrictions 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,” said Congresswoman Clarke. “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.”

The letter was also signed by Congressman Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, Congressman Raul M. Grijalva, Congressman Charles B. Rangel, Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Congresswoman Madeleine Z. Bordallo, Congressman Bobby L. Rush, Congressman Andre Carson, Congresswoman Gwen Moore, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, Congresswoman Corrine Brown, Congressman Stanford Bishop, Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee, Congresswoman Robin Kelly, and Congressman Marc Veasey.

U.S. Representative Yvette D. Clarke is a member of the House Committee on Small Business, Ethics, and Homeland Security, where she is the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection, and Security Technologies. She represents many neighborhoods in central and southern Brooklyn, NY which include Brownsville, Crown Heights, East Flatbush, Flatbush, Gerritsen Beach, Madison, Midwood, parts of Park Slope and Flatlands, Prospect Heights, Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, Sheepshead Bay, and Windsor Terrace.