Michelle Tan, Army Times, March 31, 2014
Thousands of soldiers and others have signed a White House petition calling for the president to order the Army to reconsider just-released appearance and grooming regulations they contend are “racially biased” against black women.
The update to Army Regulation 670-1 was published Monday, and among the rules are clarifications for Army-appropriate hairstyles. For example, the Army does not allow twists or multiple braids that are bigger than a quarter of an inch in diameter. The reg also bans dreadlocks of any style, and cornrows must be uniform and no bigger than a quarter of an inch.
Twists and dreadlocks have been prohibited since 2005, but the regulation at the time did not clearly define the specific hairstyles, Army spokesman Paul Prince said.
The new AR 670-1 clearly defines the different hairstyles and gives soldiers specific guidance on what’s allowed, he said. Leadership training released in mid-March, published before the reg was official, includes photos of a number of unauthorized hairstyles, several of which are popular among black women.
“I’ve been in the military six years, I’ve had my hair natural four years, and it’s never been out of regulation. It’s never interfered with my head gear,” said Sgt. Jasmine Jacobs, of the Georgia National Guard, who wears her hair in two twists.
Jacobs, who started the White House petition, said she’s “kind of at a loss now with what to do with my hair.”
The Army defines “twists” as two distinct strands of hair twisted around one another to create a rope-like appearance.
Jacobs said twists are the go-to style for black female soldiers going to the field because it “makes it easy to take care of in the field,” she said.
Her hair is naturally thick and curly, making it impossible to pull into a bun, Jacobs said.
“Most black women, their hair doesn’t grow straight down, it grows out,” she said. “I’m disappointed to see the Army, rather than inform themselves on how black people wear their hair, they’ve white-washed it all.”
Jacobs said that before these clarifications, black female soldiers had more hairstyle options while maintaining a professional appearance.
“We feel let down,” Jacobs said. “I think, at the end of the day, a lot of people don’t understand the complexities of natural hair. A lot of people, instead of educating themselves, they think dreadlocks and they think Bob Marley, or they see women with really big Afros and they think that’s the only thing we can do with our hair.”
Prince said hair grooming standards are “necessary to maintain uniformity within a military population.”