WASHINGTON — 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 the Army regulation 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 rule 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."
In the White House petition, Jacobs calls on the Army to reconsider changes to the regulation.
"Females with natural hair take strides to style their natural hair in a professional manner when necessary; however, changes to AR 670-1 offer little to no options for females with natural hair," she said in her petition.
The changes are "racially biased, and the lack of regard for ethnic hair is apparent," she further states.
Staff Sgt. Mary Johnson voiced similar concerns on Sgt. Maj. of the Army Ray Chandler's Facebook page.
"As far as the twists, that really limits females with curly/kinky hair," she said. "I can't simply pull my hair back due to excessive knotting. I proudly wear twists in a professional manner every day and only took them down on the weekends. It makes it very difficult for ethnic females."
Jacobs said she'll likely wear a wig to her battle assembly because chemically relaxing her hair or putting it up in corn rows is damaging to her hair.
"I talked to my first sergeant, and he said we would (face non-judicial punishment) if we're out of reg," she said. "So I either get a wig or be NJPed, all because of the way my hair grows naturally."
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."
"Many hairstyles are acceptable, as long as they are neat and conservative," he said. "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 in AR 670-1."