Army regulation revisions too little, too late

By Associate Editor

When reading classic American novels such as “Huckleberry Finn” or copies of the Jim Crow laws, readers are bound to encounter prejudice and racial slurs because they were common in the past. But such language and discrimination have no place in contemporary speech, especially when it comes to U.S. military service members of color who risk their lives for the country.

The U.S. Army has recently come under fire for its controversial actions and bylaws including its policies fraught with racially insensitive terms and its rules for women of color and their hair care. Until recently, it was acceptable to refer to a black military service member as a “Negro,” according to a Nov. 6 USA Today report. 

After CNN reported that the word was deemed acceptable to refer to blacks under the U.S. Army’s policies, the Army released a statement saying it had removed the language from its AR 600-20, a document containing collected army regulations. The U.S. Army must continue to regularly review its policies in order to treat all service members equally, regardless of race.

It is unclear when the word was added into the policy, but blacks began fighting in the Revolutionary War from 1775–1783 and in the War of 1812, so it is possible it was added at that time. 

Though the removal of the term is a step in the right direction for equal treatment of all military service members, it should not have taken public shaming to create such change. This is the 21st century. The term should have been removed from the policy’s language decades ago following the Civil Rights Movement, when the term was no longer used. 

Though the word has a negative connotation, it has its place in historical texts. Had this been in a Library of Congress or a historical museum, the term would serve an educational function, showing onlookers the country’s history of racial discrimination and mistreatment. Using the term in a historical context reminds us of the nation’s history, how far it has come in terms of equality and how far it still needs to go. But this is not the case here. 

The Army’s inclusion of the word “Negro” and the delayed removal of the term from its regulations is a reminder of how race has affected the military and reopens still-healing wounds left behind by segregation and discrimination. According to an April 20 New York Times report, the U.S. Army implemented a new regulation that banned black hairstyles such as twists, dreadlocks and large cornrows, which are popular hairstyles among black women. The regulation referred to such hairstyles as being “unkempt or matted,” the New York Times reported. At that time, more than 26,700 Army service members were black women. 

The Army has a compelling interest in maintaining the uniformity of its service members, and that means some freedoms civilians enjoy will be stripped away after entering the army. However, people cannot change who they are. Black men can cut their hair short, but for black women, it is not that simple. 

Black women’s hair is usually too curly to be pulled back into a straight ponytail and must be straightened with heat or chemicals. The black women in the U.S. Army should not be insulted because of the way they look. They cannot control the way their hair grows or the fact that it requires different products and maintenance than women with naturally straighter hair. It is also increasingly difficult to maintain their hair while they are on duty in other countries. 

They fight for the country and should not be subjected to an arbitrary standard of beauty. Black people have played a significant role in building the U.S. into what it is now. When they join the armed forces, they—like the other service members—lay their lives on the line to fight for our country. 

The Army must examine itself and scrub away any offensive policies to attract more service members to the military and treat them equally. Though the military strives to keep order and maintain the homogeneity in the appearance of its troops, the quest for uniformity should not stop at how you look. 

If they expect service members to conform to military regulations, the military must truly be uniform in its treatment of

all troops. The U.S. Army is doing a disservice to its troops by not accepting them for who they are, calling them offensive names and imposing prejudiced practices

on them.