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Esper directs services to review racial bias in grooming standards, training and more

A team devoted to rooting out racial injustice in the military has come back with its first recommendations.

Among them are reviewing whether grooming standards are racially biased, Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced Wednesday, in addition to reviewing Equal Opportunity programs, creating training for leadership to discuss issues of racial justice within their formations and adding bias into existing programs for bystander intervention training.

“Diversity and inclusivity in the ranks are not merely aspirations, they are fundamental necessities to our readiness and our mission success,” Esper wrote in a memo.

The recommendations came less than a month after Esper announced he would put together a team to study how race and ethnicity affect troops’ experiences in the military and create actionable recommendations to improve that.

The issue of hair grooming has come up in all four services in recent years, as regulations around acceptable hair styles for Black women, as well as religious beards and head coverings, have evolved.

Following up on a suggestion he floated in June, Esper also directed the services to remove photos from promotion packets, a move the Army has already made.

In addition to hair standards and training, Esper directed his personnel and readiness office to administer its “Workplace and Equal Opportunity” survey more often, in order to gather data on any progress made or lost.

“The prejudice and bias that exist within our force are not always transparent,” he wrote. “The Department must collect data and analyze it to identify patterns and trends, and to inform and improve the Department’s policies and programs.”

Esper’s team is one of multiple programs stood up throughout the military this summer, in the wake of nationwide protests following the May 25 death of George Floyd, a Black man who prosecutors say was murdered by a white Minneapolis police officer.

Senior leadership across DoD stood up to denounce racism and the killings of unarmed Black people, as well as call for their own organizations to stomp about racial bias.

Those conversations have also included renewed controversy around 10 Army posts named for Confederate generals, seen as glorifying a separatist government based on the conservation and perpetuation of slavery.

“The American Civil War was fought — and it was an act of rebellion, it was an act of treason at the time — against the Union, against the Stars and Stripes, against the U.S. Constitution,” Army Gen. Mark Milley, Joint Chiefs chairman, said during Capitol Hill testimony on Thursday. “And those officers turned their back on their oath.”

Milley said that he is open to a commission that would study whether and how to rename the posts.

His comments came after a back-and-forth battle between Congress and the White House, as the House Armed Services Committee proposed legislation that would rename the posts, and President Donald Trump announced he would veto anything to that effect.

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