Black women troops say new grooming rule is racially biased

(CNN) — When is a braid not a braid? How many braids are too many? Are twists OK? How about just one?

A new update to the Army’s grooming regulations tackles these questions, but the problem is, some female soldiers say the policies are racially insensitive.

Army Regulation 670-1, or “Wear and Appearance of Army Uniforms and Insignia,” is an oft-updated edict that defines standards of professional appearance within the branch. The newest updates, which went into effect on Monday, include clarification on tattoos (another hot topic among military members), uniform wear, nails and — perhaps most controversially — hairstyles.

Previously, the regulation did not specifically address things such as braid widths or numbers, or the definition of twist styles. With the newest update to 670-1, however, the regulation says women cannot wear their hair in multiple braids more than a certain width and cannot wear twists of any kind.

Several black female soldiers say the new rules are “racially biased” and “show a lack of regard for ethnic hair,” because they severely limit the number of options for people with especially coarse or thick hair and imply certain hairstyles are unprofessional.

Army leadership claims the changes are intended to clarify the professional look of Army soldiers, and an Army spokesman told HLN that all service personnel are given access to instructional materials to help them abide by the regulation.

“Policies within these publications give soldiers and leaders the responsibility for ensuring our appearance reflects the highest level of professionalism,” the spokesman noted in a statement. “All adjustments made within these regulations went through an extensive decision-making process with continuous input from various levels of Army leaders.

“The U.S. Army is dedicated to ensuring aoldiers and leaders have easy access to policies to ensure our Army maintains a professional, neat, and soldierly appearance.”

Here are some specifics from the updated regulation, word-for-word:

On braids: “When worn, multiple braids will be of uniform dimension, small in diameter (approximately 1⁄4 inch).”

On twists: “Twists are defined as twisting two distinct strands of hair around one another to create a twisted rope-like appearance. Although some twists may be temporary, and can be easily untwisted, they are unauthorized (except for French twists). This includes twists formed against the scalp or worn in a free-hanging style.”

On “devices,” or hair accessories: Soldiers will not place hair-holding devices in the hair for decorative purposes. All hair-holding devices must be plain and of a color as close to the Soldier’s hair as is possible or clear … Devices that are conspicuous, excessive, or decorative are prohibited. Some examples of prohibited devices include, but are not limited to: large, lacy scrunchies; beads, bows, or claw or alligator clips; clips, pins, or barrettes with butterflies, flowers, sparkles, gems, or scalloped edges; and bows made from hairpieces.”

As has been the policy for several years, locks of any kind are unauthorized. Wigs and hairpieces are authorized in certain situations. An Army leadership training manual released in March provided photos depicting the unauthorized hairstyles.

In late March, Sgt. Jasmine Jacobs of the Georgia National Guard started a White House petition urging the Army to reconsider the changes.

“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 wrote in the petition. “In the proposed changes, unauthorized hairstyles include twists, both flat twists as well as two strand twists; as well as dreadlocks, which are defined as “any matted or locked coils or ropes of hair.” These new changes are racially biased, and the lack of regard for ethnic hair is apparent. This policy needs to be reviewed prior to publishing to allow for neat and maintained natural hairstyles.”

Currently, the petition has almost 8,000 signatures.

“We feel let down,” Jacobs told the Army Times. “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.”

16 comments

  • Jarrad C Williams

    Oh for Pete’s sake GEEZE! Service personnel conform to MILITARY dress and appearance standards. If you feel tied to civilian standards become a civilian at the earliest opportunity.

  • Joy

    All branches of the military need to apply stricter regulations for hairstyles, cuts, and shaving habits.

  • The Don

    Go UA..! And if you don’t like what is being requested go work at Wal-Mart or Mc DONALDS. .. get real people u make me sick ! I don’t like this, why can’t we have that …this is racial bias ..I want my mamma ! Only in America .. I bet they want their nails did too ! If you went to war and had to wear a helmet and it didn’t fit cuz your braids and cornrows were in the way then what…?

    • Danni

      Its funny because keeping my hair braided was the thing that helped me to keep my helmet on during the war.

  • Ted the Vet

    If the policy is being changed due to NUBC regs then yes stop opposing it. However, if this is a reg that has know strategic rational for existing then why impose this military regulation our soldiers. For those who are coding your true feelings on here troll statements, demonstrates southern VA still has citizens who harbor some racial bias but hide behind rhetoric like stop crying, go back to work at Walmart. Seriously wake up!

  • Catalyst

    Of course SE VA still harbors serious undertones of racial stereotyping- they also have some of the lowest IQ ratios in the nation. If you’re going to spout hateful ignorance such as “I bet they want their nails did” or “go work at Wal-Mart or McDonald’s”, you should be aware of proper grammar and written communication guidelines. Otherwise, it is yourself who appears ridiculous. Also, what’s wrong with working in Wal-Mart or fast food? I work in fast food, despite having a college education, and still make $70k a year. It’s all about perspective- which is exactly what I tell my employees. If you ignorant barbarians would stop for a minute and present your thoughts in a well-constructed, professional manner, maybe someone would take you seriously. If you’re incapable of doing so, then please politely refrain from allowing that hate and ridiculous filth dribble from your mouths and keyboards.

    That is all.

  • The Don

    That’s what makes America great. ..I have learned ebonics ! Some people take things to much to heart! But your dissertation of my comments are respected I gave my opinion and u didn’t accept it so..oh well life goes on …my comments explained are simple examples to suggest that if you joined the military signed the dotted line ..they own you..follow protocol and stop complaining that it’s racial bias…standards are what they are…peace love and happiness! !

  • Aimee

    I think it’s a good regulation. I know going on base now at a certain housing office and certain military airport there are ladies with color hair extensions in their hair while in uniform. How is this even remotely respectful of the uniform and why do their superiors overlook it? I don’t think these rules have been clarified for a certain race, but to tell all to get into standards where their superiors are failing to uphold the code. And shame on these women in uniform who are “pulling one over on their superiors”.

  • The Don

    Ted the vet…I may be African american or biracial so how does your comment even make sense …I don’t have to hide if I am commenting on the story. C’mon man get real !!

  • Jill Walls

    Everyone knows what the regs are before they sign up. Don’t cry now! I have always had very long hair and I knew what was required of me to keep it long and FOLLOWED the regulations.

  • mary

    As a Caucasian mother to African American children I can see how this policy might be difficult for African American females.

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