MSNBC Plays Race Card with Story on New Army Hairstyle Regs

MSNBC loves to find a racial controversy in the most unexpected of places and on Wednesday’s NewsNation, anchor Tamron Hall seized a golden opportunity to do just that. Hall brought on Sgt. Jasmine Jacobs, a soldier who started a White House petition asking the president to force the U.S. Army to reconsider its updated appearance and grooming regulations.

Hall explained the problem as she opened the story:

 

[T]he U.S. Army just released its updated appearance and grooming regulations and it's drawing sharp criticism for rules many say unfairly target African-American women's hair... [O]ne of the rules which only applies to women is a ban on twists, dreadlocks, and multiple braids or cornrows that are bigger than a quarter of an inch.
 

So this story combined two of MSNBC’s favorite topics – racism and sexism – with another favorite liberal media pastime, beating up on the military.

Hall -- an African-American woman who grew up in a military family -- asked mostly sympathetic questions during the interview, never directly challenging Jacobs on the premise of her complaint. That’s not to say she didn’t come close to playing devil’s advocate. At one point, she read Jacobs this quote from an Army spokesperson:
 

Many hairstyles are acceptable, as long as they are neat and conservative. In addition, headgear is expected to fit snugly and comfortably without bulging or distortion from the intended shape of the headgear and without excessive gaps. Unfortunately, some hairstyles do not meet this standard, or others listed.
 

That might have been a good time to ask the sergeant something like, “Doesn’t the spokesperson have a point?” But instead, Hall followed up that quote by asking, “What are some of the things that you heard from the 7,000 voices who joined you on this petition?”

Hall was so invested in this story that she told Jacobs she wanted to check back with her in five days for an update on her plight. After she ended the interview, the host put the question of hairstyle bias to the masses, asking, “So what does your gut tell you? Do you think the Army's new hair regulations are racially biased? Go to newsnation.msnbc.com to cast your vote.”

Of course, this was after she had just presented a largely one-sided picture of the controversy.

Below is a transcript of the interview:


TAMRON HALL: So the U.S. Army just released its updated appearance and grooming regulations and it's drawing sharp criticism for rules many say unfairly target African-American women's hair. Now, the regulations include rules on tattoos, hair styles, grooming and uniforms. However, one of the rules which only applies to women is a ban on twists, dreadlocks, and multiple braids or cornrows that are bigger than a quarter of an inch. An army spokesperson told the Army Times newspaper the hairstyles have been barred since 2005, but the new regulations are now more specific. He argues they are, quote, "necessary to maintain uniformity within a military population." But it's not sitting well with more than 7,000 soldiers who have now signed a White House petition calling on the president to order the army to reconsider the regulations. Joining me now is a soldier who started the petition, Sergeant Jasmine Jacobs of the Georgia National Guard. Sergeant, thank you so much for your time today.

SGT. JASMINE JACOBS: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

HALL: So 7,000 voices have joined you here. At the heart of this, you feel, is discrimination. Explain to me why you believe that this alienates African-American women specifically?

JACOBS: Well, many of the changes in the new regulations of AR 670-1, which determine our uniform policy, they outlaw things that are frequented in the black female hair community, especially for natural – females of natural hair, and that would be two-strand twists, which is the hairstyle that my hair is in currently, as well as dreadlocks, flat twists, and a variety of things that are mostly worn by females of color.

HALL: Obviously your hair looks nice, it looks neat right now. It’s quite lovely, by the way.

JACOBS: Thank you.

HALL: But you wrote, “Most black women, their hair does not grow straight down, it grows out. I’m disappointed to see the army, rather than inform themselves on how black people wear their hair, they've whitewashed it all.” What was the reaction to that piece you wrote and how you articulated that you feel it's being whitewashed rather than an issue of education?

JACOBS: Right, I said the word – I used the phrase "whitewash" to describe the fact that many of the hairstyles that are now authorized are hairstyles that are frequented by people with straight hair, that have naturally straight hair, which are normally women that are not of color. And so by whitewashing, I’m saying that our hair does not normally grow straight down like most people hair might grow. It actually grows out or it grows curly or it grows kinky or coily naturally. So by telling us that many of the hairstyles that are allowed now are those that are typically worn straight, I feel like that was a racial bias.



HALL: So in this quote from the army spokesperson, they say, “Many hairstyles are acceptable, as long as they are neat and conservative. In addition, headgear is expected to fit snugly and comfortably without bulging or distortion from the intended shape of the headgear and without excessive gaps. Unfortunately, some hairstyles do not meet this standard, or others listed.” What are some of the things that you heard from the 7,000 voices who joined you on this petition?

JACOBS: Well, a great majority of the people that I've spoken with that have signed the petition kind of had the same sentiments that I had when I created the petition, and that's that we're at a loss of what to do with our hair now at this point now that this regulation has been passed. As of right now, the way my hair is, in five days it will be out of regulation because there are seven days in which we have to comply with the new regulations. And I can wear my headgear properly. There are – you can have neat dreadlocks that would allow you to wear your hair properly. You can have flat twists that would allow you to wear your headgear properly. So there are several hairstyles that are neat and professional and allow for the proper wear of the uniform that are now unauthorized.

HALL: Well, Sergeant, I want to check back in with you in five days to see the latest on this. But we appreciate you joining, and we'll see what happens here. Thank you. And thank you for your service to this country.

JACOBS: Thank you.

HALL: So what does your gut tell you? Do you think the army's new hair regulations are racially biased? Go to newsnation.msnbc.com to cast your vote.
 

Paul Bremmer
Paul Bremmer is a Media Research Center News Analysis Division intern.