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Black female troops versus Army's hair rule: Female troops say racially biased

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Black female troops serving in the U.S. Army are blasting recent grooming rule changes that they claim are racially biased. Specific regulations have now been rolled out defining appropriate sizes of braids and cornrows, as well as banning dreadlocks of any kind.

“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,” writes USA Today on April 1.

The ArmyTimes carried highlights of the new rules –Army Regulation 670-1 – which has language that governs tattoos, hairstyles, general grooming and the uniform. The regulation took effect Monday.

Here is the full PDF version of 670-1: Wear and Appearance of Army Uniforms and Insignia.

Among the notable changes:

  • Soldiers have seven days to adhere to the new grooming standards.
  • Soldiers serving in the Army cannot get new tattoos unless they meet specific criteria.
  • Army commanders must make recordation of those soldiers under their charge and the tattoos they have. These “tattoo validation memos” will be housed in the soldiers' human resource file.

“The Army is a profession, and one of the ways our leaders and the American people measure our professionalism is by our appearance,” Sgt. Maj. Ray Chandler wrote. “Wearing of the uniform, as well as our overall military appearance, should be a matter of personal pride for all soldiers.”

The tattoo policy contained in 670-1, per the ArmyTimes, states that “extremist, indecent, sexist and racist tattoos” are banned, and that “soldiers now are prohibited from having tattoos on their head, face, neck, wrists, hands and fingers.” Soldiers also are allowed “no more than four visible tattoos below the elbow or below the knee, and these tattoos must be smaller than the size of the wearer’s hand.”

But the specific wording regarding hairstyles common to African American women is causing outcry in the ranks.

Multiple braids, headbands, cornrows and other twists are subject to numbers and size. For example, a woman with multiple braids must ensure that each braid is less than a quarter inch in diameter.

The regs are so complicated that the Army put together a PowerPoint presentation, which 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 from the Georgia National Guard, Jacobs wears her hair in twists. “I’m kind of at a loss now with what to do with my hair,” she said.

Jacobs has spearheaded a White House petition, calling for a reconsideration of changes to AR 670-1 “to allow professional ethnic hairstyles.”

Her petition reads:

More than 30% of females serving in the military are of a race other than white. As of 2011, 36% of females in the U.S. stated that they are natural, or refrain from chemically processing their hair. 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. 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.

As of the writing of this article, 6,235 signatures were received. 100,000 signatures are needed by April 19 to force the White House to consider the petition.

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