U.S. Army Releases “Racially Biased” Hairstyle Regulations

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Sgt. Jasmine Jacobs of the National Guard in Georgia has always plaited her hair into two twists around her head. She has been in the military for six years and has worn her hair natural (meaning no chemical treatments [perms] or hair extensions [weaves]) for four of those years. But according to the new hair-grooming requirements the U.S. Army recently released, her hair is now out of regulation.

And so are the Afro-centric hairstyles of many black women in the Army, who make up 31 percent of Army women.

Jacobs, who said she is “kind of at a loss now with what to do with my hair,” has started a White House petition asking the Army to rethink its new hair guidelines. The petition has collected more than 7,000 signatures from soldiers and civilians, but needs to reach 100,000 signatures by April 19th in order for the White House to address it.

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The petition states:

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… These new changes are racially biased and the lack of regard for ethnic hair is apparent.

The new Army Regulation 670-1 [PDF] was published Tuesday and illustrates with photos the types of hairstyles that are unauthorized for women. Those include dreadlocks, twists or any type of matted or coiled hair. A particularly cumbersome requirement disallows the bulk of a woman’s hair to “exceed more than 2″ from her scalp.” That rules out Afros and most types of non-chemically altered black hair.

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Basically, almost every natural hair option that black women in the Army could wear is now off limits. One of the few traditionally natural hairstyles that was listed as appropriate is cornrows, but a slew of specifications and rules surrounded even that. The diameter of each cornrow can’t be more than one-fourth of an inch, and no more than one-eighth of an inch of scalp may be shown between cornrows.

The only way to realistically meet the new standards would be to shave one’s head, perm one’s hair or wear weaves or wigs.

Jacobs said twists like the one she wears are very popular among black women soldiers because the style requires little maintenance when in the field. Her hair’s thickness and curliness makes pulling her hair back into a bun (a style popular among white women soldiers) impossible.

A spokesperson for the Army said the grooming changes are “necessary to maintain uniformity within a military population.” When that need for “uniformity” erases the ethnic differences of a group of women and forces them to constrain themselves to European standards of hair, it presents a serious problem.

“I think, at the end of the day, a lot of people don’t understand the complexities of natural hair… I’m disappointed to see the Army, rather than inform themselves on how black people wear their hair, they’ve white-washed it all,” said Jacobs.

Screenshots taken from Army Regulation 670-1

 

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Anita Little is the associate editor at Ms. magazine. Follow her on Twitter.

 

 

Comments

  1. When talking about hair in the military, the only two questions that should be asked are 1.) is it safe and 2.) Does it allow me and my fellow soldiers do our job. If yes can be answered to both of those, it should be allowed. I understand that there are real safety concerns regarding certain hairstyles, and issues with head equipment, but these ‘improved’ guidelines appear to be all about appearances.

  2. Emily Newsome-Burt says:

    It sounds like the government is trying to re-segregate the military or at least force out African-American women. I’m not African-American but even I know that these new regulations are racist and are meant to force African-American women out of the military for some stupid, racist, sexist reason. This regulation is just wrong and not necessary. African american women military personnel keep our nation going and to treat them as less than everyone else is just wrong. Whoever came up with these regulations has to have some idea of what it’s like for an African-American woman out in the field or the people running our military are total idiots oblivious to how military personnel groom out in the field.
    One thought why this regulation has been made is to force women out of the military so that it lowers the amount of women and the mentality is if there’s less women then there’s less lawsuits whenever a female personnel is raped, harassed or otherwise sexually assaulted. I think this regulation is a move to force women out of the military as much as possible. I think there’s going to be future nonsensical regulations penalizing women of all ethnicities just for being women. Right now these sexist, racist jerks who devised those horrendously obvious regulations are targeting African-american women first as an easy target: seriously, trying to make African-American women style their hair like some fine haired Euro-american woman is just racist and impossible. Who want’s to be stationed out in the desert, bullets flying past them, explosions around them and they have to deal with a wig or a sand encrusted ponytail dependent on flat ironing and hair styling products to stay “within regulation”? African-american women in our military work hard and put their own lives on the line for the rest of us and this is how they’re treated? Hell no. Where’s that petition? I’m signing it and if you love our military women for protecting us then you’ll sign it too.

    • Emily, I think you have gone a little overboard with the conspiracy theory. I don’t believe this is an attempt at racial segregation. Nor do I believe that this is an attempt to remove women from active duty. I think this is just sheer ignorance. Speaking as a white woman, I didn’t know jack about black hair until I was in high school – and even then, I only learned because I ASKED, and my friends were amused enough to answer. Most whites are completely clueless about natural hair – as are most men. Perhaps the real problem here is a lack of diversity on the panel that came up with these new guidelines. If we make enough noise, I am certain that it will draw the attention of those in charge and result in a change in policy.

    • Your absolutely right i must say!

    • charron jones says:

      Speak Emily…
      Yes honey.

  3. It sounds like all it needs is a revision. I understand why the army made the rule but they did overlook the troubles of ethnic-hair styling. I didnt know those hairstyles required non-natural hair treatments. I woulda thought a bun would work too. But this just shows why we need more women in power positions. In this case they needed a black woman so she could point out the mistake.

  4. Liz Gustafson says:

    Backward bullshit.

  5. I’d also like to point out that they can no longer crop their hair less than 1/4″ from the scalp (except for a taper that reaches no farther than 2″ from the natural hairline), which eliminates another hairstyle that I’ve seen a lot of women of color use in the service.

    Lurid hairstyles shouldn’t be allowed in uniform, but some consideration needs to be made for the actual practicality of regulation. There’s no reason to take away functional solutions.

  6. Linda L. Talmadge says:

    So, concerning women’s hair, the US Army is as anally restrictive as my daughter’s former Roman Catholic high school.

  7. This comes after a slew of stories in the past year about girls being send home school because they wore their hair natural. I read about cases in Florida, Ohio, and Colorado. Government institutions (including schools and the army) need to get a clue. These rejections of natural hair show just how “deviant” society views diverging from the white/Euro-centric standards of appearance.

  8. Santana says:

    Where can we sign the petition?

  9. Brittany says:

    There are just as many rules regulating men’s hair in the military as women’s. They just tend to not have as many rules because men don’t vary their hair styles as much. These regulations are to create uniformity. The military is supposed to be the elite of the country and everyone who joins is required to make sacrifices. Honestly it would make more sense if all women, of all races, were required to cut their hair short at bootcamp. Men are required to shave their heads, women should need to cut theirs as well. It would increase uniformity and be more practical.

    • charron jones says:

      They truly haven you fooled in regards to this being uniform policy for years black women have worn braids and twists in the military now its a problem if you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything………

  10. Kelli mcghee says:

    This is so wrong smh
    So its OK to wear wigs and weaves-meaning to look like a clown….

  11. Denise Nichols says:

    Is this new rule applicable to male soldiers as well? If so, what about males who have a very tight cut … certainly cropped more than 1/4″ from their scalp. Regulation 670-1 shows signs of racism and sexism in our military.

  12. Jennifer Noyola says:

    They might as well just ask us to shave our heads.

  13. Why not implement WHITE SIDE WALL to all of the military or Skin head for all of them? Nevertheless, I still find this as racists.

  14. It’s only hair. Why not have the same standards for all members of the military? Now that would be uniformity.

  15. Lord have mercy! Women are wearing their hair twisted so that it looks neat and professional, and is safe, and that’s not good enough? Even though it’s been fine for years so far? And they aren’t allowed to simply cut it super-short to get rid of the “problem”?

    Indeed, having more women in charge, and more black women especially, ought to make a difference.

    I have the opposite hair issue to Sgt. Jacobs– my hair is super-straight, baby fine, and slippery. But my experience is similar to hers in that my hair will only do certain things and not others, no matter what anyone wants to dictate about it. We have to be allowed to do what we can to look reasonable and not be forced to do what we can’t. The military is composed of a variety of Americans with a variety of body and hair types. Those in charge need to deal with that realistically.

  16. Her comment on braids wasnt 100% true…. ar670-1-f) Braids, cornrows, and twists. Medium and long hair may be styled with braids, cornrows, or twists . Each braid, cornrow, or twist will be of uniform dimension, have a diameter no greater than 1/2 inch,
    and present a neat, professional, and well-groomed appearance. Each must have the same approximate size of spacing
    between the braids, cornrows, or twists.

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