News & Politics

Are the Army's New Hair Rules Racist?

Thousands have petitioned the White House to remove the controversial grooming laws.

The PowerPoint slides indicate unauthorized hairstyles for women.
Photo Credit: U.S Army

Thousands of angry army soldiers have signed a White House petition calling for the President to amend the army's new appearance and grooming regulations on the basis that the new rules are racially biased against black women, Military Times reported.

An update to Army Regulation 670-1 was published this week to clarify “Army-appropriate” hairstyles as well as other grooming and uniform wear laws.  The new regulations do not allow twists or multiple braids that are bigger than a quarter of an inch in diameter.  The regulations also ban dreadlocks and cornrows must be no larger than a quarter of an inch.

Female soldiers say the stipulations discriminate against black women who naturally have curly and kinky hair and cannot put their hair back simply because of excessive knotting. Furthermore, they argue that given 30 percent of females serving in the military are non-white, the policy needs to be changed to allow “professional ethnic hairstyles.”

Sgt. Jasmine Jacobs, of the Georgia National Guard, who started the petition and wears her hair in two twists says she is at a loss now with what to do with her hair since twists are the go-to style for black female soldiers because it is easier to take care of in the field.

“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…Most black women, their hair doesn’t grow straight down, it grows out.  I’m disappointed to see the Army, rather than inform themselves on how black people wear their hair, they’ve white-washed it all.” she said.

Jacobs says she spoke to her first sergeant about the regulations who informed her if they did not comply with the regulations they would face non-judicial punishment. 

In response, Army Spokesperson Paul Prince said the grooming standards were necessary to maintain uniformity with the 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,” he said.

Furthermore, an Army spokesperson said in defense, that the measures were only approved after consulting hundreds of senior enlisted female soldiers as part of a focus group led by a female sergeant major

Jodie Gummow is a senior fellow and staff writer at AlterNet.