In 2014, the Army published a controversial update to their female hair regulations that prohibited the use of braids, twists and other traditional black protective hairstyles.
The natural hair community was livid, and rightfully so! Black female soldiers depended on these braided and twisted hairstyles to keep their hair healthy while in the field, and to ultimately stay focused on their jobs at hand!
One black female soldier stepped up and bravely penned the exact petition that helped bring awareness to this issue at the government level, which ultimately reversed the racially-biased regulations!
Her name is Sgt. Jasmine Jacobs.
I met Jasmine at a video shoot and begged her to let me feature her on my blog. She tends to like to keep it pretty lowkey, but lucky for us, she said yes! Learn a bit more about her amazing story below!
Sup Jasmine! Thanks for speaking with us! We’d love to know how long you’ve been in the military, and which branch? Also, are you still active?
I was in the Army National Guard for 7.5 years and left in April 2014.
How did you find the courage to confront the military ban on traditionally black hairstyles?
I honestly didn’t feel like I had a choice. Here was this organization that I had devoted my time and my life to, figuratively and literally when I deployed to Iraq in 2008, that was saying that there was something wrong with the way my hair was naturally… that my hair was unkempt, matted and unprofessional. For me, going natural is the most amazing self-love journey you can take and I didn’t want little brown girls thinking that there was anything wrong with them or their hair in its natural state; that it wasn’t welcomed or deemed as professional as other hair. I was told that I needed to wear a wig, relax my hair, or get micros… which were all damaging options. I just refused to accept it as the final answer. I grew up very stubborn, and “no” is just a challenge for me, haha… sorry Dad.
Did you work alone in writing the petition, or did you have a team/mentor that helped?
Technically, I guess I did it on my own, in the sense that I started the petition and did the interviews. But to say I worked alone would completely ignore the 17,000+ people who signed my petition, all of my family, friends, and their friends who shared the petition, and updates that urged people to get involved. Also, the members of Congress who drafted regulations and worked with me to get our voice heard… so really, I feel like we all did it!
What steps did you take to get the establishment to pay attention to this issue?
The first thing I did was start the petition on whitehouse.gov. I then reached out to every person with natural hair I could think of on social media, asking them to share the petition or make a statement. From there I sent out press releases to media outlets about the issue. The first outlet to pick up my story was Roland Martin. From that interview, it just took on a life of its own from NBC, to John Stewart and the New York Times. I think what helped get the story shared was that it was truly absurd. Natural hair was nothing new, so to take a step back during what should’ve been a progressive time really blew people’s minds. The language used in the regulations was incendiary as well, using trigger words like ‘unkempt, matted…’ it was a slap in the face. Once members of Congress got word, things really started happening on a legal level as well.
I’m happy that you were brave enough, especially being within that organization, to take those steps. What were some challenges you faced in working to reverse the ban?
For the most part I got tons of support! A Lieutenant colonel in my office at that time, who was a bald white male, told me that what I was doing was great, and that he didn’t need hair to know that the regulations were biased and unfair. A truly tough part for me was reading the comments from those news stories. People, mostly white men within the military, who I would’ve stood next to on the front line, were now spewing the most racially charged, misogynistic hatred that I’ve ever read, and it was about me. It hurt me to know that not only were there people who felt this way, but that these people were serving in the military alongside me. That they said those things, regarding what should be done to me, because I stood up for my natural hair.
What was your greatest triumph? Any events in particular that stood out?
The women of the Congressional Black Caucus wrote a letter to the former Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, calling the regulations offensive and biased, and calling for their overturn. It brought me to tears that these strong, powerful, amazing women of color, took time out of their day to get behind my cause. That was “the moment” for me. Of course, the best part was when the regulations were, in fact, overturned haha… but having all that black girl magic on my side literally made me sob. Oh, and being on The Daily Show is right up there too; Jessica Williams is the best.
If you had to do it again, what would you have done differently, if anything?
I think I would’ve been a little bolder. I was super nervous being in front of cameras and doing interviews in the beginning. I wanted change, but I didn’t want to offend anyone too much in the process. I remember how I would purposely veer away from words such as ‘prejudiced’ and ‘ignorant’ because I didn’t want to detract from the mission by giving ammo for an “angry black woman” rhetoric. If I did it again though, I probably would’ve just tossed the boat from the beginning and said, “Hey, this is racially biased. It isn’t right, and we need to fix it.”
I would’ve still been courteous and professional, but I probably would’ve kicked in the door, rather than knocking with my pinky knuckle, haha. So even though the job got done, and I probably had bad-ass moments, I wish I’d just rocked it out like that from the beginning. Also, I would’ve had a more vocal push for dreadlocks. I think it’s a miss that they weren’t a larger part of the proposed changes. I think at that point, I was just trying to bring it back to a manageable regulation and build from there. I wish I had demanded it all in the beginning.
What advice do you have for others looking to challenge the bias they see within their institutions?
Just make it happen. I know the whole, “be the change” thing sounds corny, but it’s not. Don’t take “no” for an answer. Had I just accepted those updated regulations, then they would still be the regulations today. When you know that something isn’t right, or should be reformed, challenge it, and stick to it. Write the petitions, ask the tough questions, meet with the decision-makers. Don’t ever roll over in silence. “If you see something, say something…” Okay, I’m done with the cliches now, lol. But honestly, I think it’s really important to stand up for, not just you, but for the little black boys and girls looking up to you. And know your information. If you have your facts in your back pocket, and can state them in a professional and confident way, it’s harder to be ignored.
Is there anything you hope to see in the future of the military, specific to black soldiers?
I’m glad the regulations were overturned, but when it comes to natural hair, there’s still a ways to go. Most specifically I think all branches of the military should allow neat, small-ish dreadlocks. The Marines and the Coast Guard allow it, and I think the other branches should follow suit. For some, it’s more religious than a personal choice, and that should be recognized in the same way that other waivers are, like those for religious headgear or keeping a beard for religious reasons.
Aside from hair, there is still work to be done when it comes to the mindset of some military members. The men that commented on those articles… that I should be “tied up,” “my head shaved” and “my body violated,” are likely still in the Armed Forces. Until they are weeded out, and that type of behavior is met with zero-tolerance, being black in the military will have its challenges.
So, what are you up to now!?
I’m glad you asked haha! I am actually very, very, excited to be launching locsBox on my birthday, September 1st! It’s a subscription box for locs that was kind-of born around the same time that the military regulations work was going on. Shortly thereafter, I began to loc my hair and all my old products just weren’t doing it for me anymore. I also noticed that the products for locs were not popping in big-box stores like they are for natural, un-loced hair, and that the handmade goodies that I was finding from small businesses weren’t getting to the masses like they needed to.
So, as I found products and grew my new stash of must-haves, I started to wonder what this looked like on a scale in which I could share with all of my lovely loc-ed friends, who were likely facing the same issues. So now you can sign up, and every month we’ll send hand-picked, quality products for your locs. We take a special interest in small businesses but are also open to a limited presence of big-box manufacturers, as long as the ingredients and products are natural, organic, and free of damaging chemicals.
This sounds amazing!! Where can we find you and locsBox online?
Thanks so much for the interview Jasmine! And thank you for bravely putting yourself out there to help make a difference! Wishing you a very Happy Birthday, and success in all of your new endeavors!