(CNN) The U.S. Army has released new appearance standards for all members but it’s those that apply to ethnic hairstyles that has some African-American women who wear their coifs in dreadlocks, braids and cornrows upset.
The same regulations apply to all members regardless of race and the Army says the rules are for the safety of all soldiers and to make sure hair does not interfere with equipment.
The Army’s regulations stipulate such guidance as hair “must be of uniform dimension, small in diameter (approximately ¼ inch), show no more than 1/8 (inch) of the scalp between the braids.”
Dreadlocks “against the scalp or free-hanging” are banned.
“Unkempt” or “matted” braids and cornrows are also considered dreadlocks and “are not authorized,” according to the regulations that were updated this month.
It’s that type of language, words like “unkempt” and “matted,” that read to some African-Americans, as code for racial bias.
“These new changes are racially biased and the lack of regard for ethnic hair is apparent,” Sgt. Jasmine Jacobs of the Georgia National Guard wrote in a White House petition she started in late March asking the Obama administration to reconsider the policy.
So far Jacobs is the only soldier to formally complain.
Capt. Tasha Dyer, a recruiter for the U.S. Army, told WJXT-TV disagrees.
“I just believe now they have more details and have gotten more specific, and it removed the interpretation to make it uniform across the board,” said Dyer. “If you understand what the standard is before you enter the organization, you’re going to accept it if that’s what you want to do with your life.”
Male soldiers have similar standards and must wear their hair in a manner which will not interfere with gear.
They must also keep sideburns neatly trimmed.
Sideburns may not be flared; the base of the sideburn will be a clean-shaven, horizontal line. Sideburns will not extend below the lowest part of the exterior ear opening.
There are also new restrictions on tattoos.
The updates in appearance standards were crafted, in part, with the help of African-American female soldiers and are intended to clarify the professional look of soldiers, said Troy Rolan, an Army spokesman.
Previous regulations did not specifically address things such as braid widths or numbers, or the definition of twist styles.
“Many hairstyles are acceptable, as long as they are neat and conservative,” Rolan said, noting the Army has banned dreadlocks since 2005.
If soldiers aren’t happy, they can go through a formal process to request changes to the hairstyle regulations, the Army said.
“We encourage soldiers to make use of this process by sending recommendations and examples of hairstyles which could present professional appearances and conform to the regulation,” Rolan said.
Black female soldiers say new grooming reg is ‘racially biased’
The rules’ conciseness isn’t the problem, say some African-American women and black studies scholars.
The problem, they say, is a perception that ethnic hair that is “natural” or not straightened with heat or chemicals is somehow unruly, unkempt and must be carefully regulated to fit within white cultural norms.
“In a broad sense, it’s just another example of U.S. institutions policing black style,” said Mark Anthony Neal, an African-American studies professor at Duke University. “And it’s not that there aren’t other examples of such policing among other racial and ethnic groups. But, given the fraught relationship between black identity and culture and what some Americans might perceive as ‘normal,’ it strikes a particularly dissonant chord among some blacks.”
Mandating what should be done with black hair is a particularly sensitive matter.
Black pride and natural hair movements have emphasized that all hair types and the rainbow of skin hues are all beautiful.
However, the Army’s regulations, some natural hair advocates and African American scholars fear, might suggest to black soldiers that their tresses must be straightened or closely cropped in order to fit in and be valued.