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Women in the Navy are now allowed to wear braids, ponytails and locs, the Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson and Chief of Naval Personnel Adm. Robert Burke announced Tuesday (July 10) via Facebook Live. According to Richardson, the decision was made to make the US Navy “much more inclusive.”

All new styles are approved so long as they don’t hinder female sailors’ ability to properly wear safety equipment, notes CNN. The new rules, which were last changed in 2014, state:

  • Ponytails, single braids and French braids are permitted when wearing service, working and physical training uniforms.
  • Hair buns can are allowed to be the width of the back of the head.
  • Locs may be worn in varying lengths, though parts must be square or rectangular “in order to maintain a neat and professional appearance.”
  • Female sailors are also allowed to wear their hair down, below the lower edge of the collar of their blouse, jacket, or coat when they’re in dinner dress uniforms.

Black women have long fought against hairstyle discrimination in professional settings. As previously reported, after an Alabama Black woman refused to cut off her locs under the conditions of the insurance company at which she was employed in 2016, a federal appeals court deemed discrimination against traditionally Black hairstyles acceptable. The EEOC argued that the “prohibition of dreadlocks in the workplace constitutes race discrimination because dreadlocks are a manner of wearing the hair that is physiologically and culturally associated with people of African descent.” However, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals did not agree.

“We recognize that the distinction between immutable and mutable characteristics of race can sometimes be a fine (and difficult) one, but it is a line that courts have drawn,” U.S. Circuit Judge Adalberto Jordan wrote in a ruling at the time. “So, for example, discrimination on the basis of black hair texture (an immutable characteristic) is prohibited by Title VII, while adverse action on the basis of black hairstyle (a mutable choice) is not.”

In 2017, Berkeley Law professor Angela Onwuachi-Willig—an employment discrimination and family law scholar with years of grooming code policy research under her belt—responded to the ruling. She stated:

“This decision portends continued difficulty for Black women who want to wear natural hairstyles in the workplace—and, by extension, schools—because it set forth faulty reasoning that other courts will likely rely on. The court actually asserts: ‘It may be that today ‘race’ is recognized as a ‘social construct’ … But our possible current reality does not tell us what the country’s collective zeitgeist was when Congress enacted Title VII half a century ago.’ It’s a rather astounding statement because it rejects science, which makes it clear that race is a social construct.”

With the help of law school professors Trina Jones (Duke), Kimberly Norwood (Washington University-St. Louis), and Wendy Greene (Cumberland), Onwuachi-Willig also co-drafted letters for which signatures were received from scholars overseas and in the U.S. The letters were then sent to the department of education and school board president for each state.


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