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This image provided by the U.S. Army shows the new hair grooming regulations for female soldiers.

U.S. Army via Associated Press,

Petition calls Army's new hair rules 'racially biased'

  • Article by: Nia-Malika Henderson and Bethonie Butler
  • Washington Post
  • April 4, 2014 - 7:22 PM

A new U.S. Army regulation that bans an array of natural hairstyles has sparked some backlash, with black women arguing that the rule has a racial and cultural component.

Released on Monday, Army Regulation 670-1 includes multiple rules that specifically address hairstyles such as cornrows, twists and braids that are popular with black women. Among the unauthorized styles are dreadlocks and twists, which have been banned since 2005. Braids must be small in diameter.

Army officials said that the revisions were approved after a focus group and a survey of hundreds of enlisted women.

The move has prompted a White House petition that has gathered more than 10,000 signatures and asks that the Army reconsider the rules.

The petition says that 30 percent of women in the military are nonwhite, and “these new changes are racially biased and the lack of regard for ethnic hair is apparent. This policy needs to be reviewed before publishing to allow for neat and maintained natural hairstyles.”

Black women are increasingly embracing natural hairstyles. A recent report by Mintel, a consumer research group, showed a 26 percent decline in relaxer sales over the last five years.

Sgt. Jasmine Jacobs, who started the petition and wears her hair in two twists, said she is “kind of at a loss now with what to do with my hair.”

“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 Jacobs, a member of the Georgia National Guard.

Army spokesman Troy A. Rolan Sr. said the rule “is necessary to maintain uniformity within a military population.”

“Many hairstyles are acceptable, as long as they are neat and conservative. In addition, headgear is expected fit snugly and comfortably, without bulging or distortion from the intended shape of the headgear,” Rolan said.

“Unfortunately, some hairstyles do not meet this standard or others listed in AR 670-1. The publishing of the 2014 version helps to clarify the Department of the Army policy for proper wear and appearance of Army uniforms and insignia,” he said.

© 2014 Star Tribune