New military hair guidelines rub some black female soldiers the wrong way

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A leaked image from the Army's PowerPoint presentation on hair guidelines.

A leaked image from the Army's PowerPoint presentation on hair guidelines.

The U.S. Army has released new guidelines for female soldiers’ hair, which some African-American troops are calling racially insensitive and biased.

The new rules (a.k.a. Army Regulation 670-1) designate the appropriate sizes of braids and cornrows and ban dreadlocks of any kind.

They also state that no “bulk of hair” exceed 2 inches from the scalp.

Thousands of people have already signed a White House petition decrying the new hair regulations. It reads in part: “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.”

“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,” Sgt. Jasmine Jacobs of the Georgia National Guard, who started the petition, told the Army Times.

For many African-American soldiers wearing their hair longer and natural is a matter of necessity, not style. Women serving abroad often don’t have access to the chemicals needed to straighten or relax their hair.

Meanwhile, many have pointed out the fact that the new standards, without mentioning race specifically, clearly have racial connotations.

“It’s very targeted because we all know who they’re talking about even though they never explicitly say the world ‘black’ or ‘African-American.’ We all know who typically wears these types of hairstyles and then they went as far as to include pictures of black women in the PowerPoint,” an Army veteran who chose to remain unidentified told Al Jazeera America.

Still the military establishment is not backing down and have included new restrictions on tattoos and grooming alongside the hair provisions.

“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.”