Updated Army regulations banning certain kinds of hairstyles are biased against black women, a new White House petition charges. The newly codified grooming rules, which went into effect on Monday, specifically forbid several hairstyles popular for black women who keep their hair natural, including twists, headbands, dreadlocks, or multiple braids that are larger than a quarter-inch. It also requires that the “bulk of hair” not exceed 2 inches from the scalp.
A PowerPoint presentation of the new rules was leaked last month ahead of publication. While twists and dreadlocks have been banned since 2005, these updated regulations go into more detail about specific hairstyles.
Sgt. Jasmine Jacobs of the Georgia National Guard launched the petition, pointing out that nearly a third of women serving in the military are non-white and many wear their hair natural (not chemically altered or in extensions). “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,” Jacobs, who says she wears her hair in two twists, told Army Times.
Over the past few decades, natural hairstyles have expanded from political statement to mainstream fashion. Chemical relaxer sales dropped 26 percent from 2008 to 2013, according to consumer trends firm Mintel, and 70 percent of black women say they wear or have worn their hair natural.
One veteran told Al Jazeera America that most black women in the Army wear their hair natural because they usually don’t have the tools to maintain chemically relaxed or straightened hair when they are deployed.
While the Army traditionally dictates stricter appearance standards than most, plenty of civilian companies and schools have also used hair to discriminate against black women and girls. Eight-year-old Tiana Parker and 12-year-old Vanessa Van Dyke are just two students who were threatened with expulsion from their schools if they did not change their hair. Another woman with natural hair, Ashley Davis, was fired from her job for refusing to cut her dreadlocks.