The U.S. Army is coming under fire for changes to its appearance and grooming standards, which some say discriminates against black women who wear their hair natural.
Army Regulation 670-1 has not been published or made official yet, but the new rules were detailed in a PowerPoint presentation that was leaked on March 20. Among the grooming regulations are updated restrictions on how women soldiers can wear their hair. An example from the Army’s PowerPoint is shown below:
Within and outside of the Army, women of color have been calling the guidelines racially biased. A White House petition has amassed more than 3,000 signatures to date requesting that the Army reconsider:Opponents of the new policies say they specifically target women of color who wear their hair natural. Natural is defined as any hair that has not been chemically processed to alter its texture.
Unauthorized hairstyles now include twists, dreadlocks, Afros and braids that are more than a quarter-inch thick – styles commonly worn by many African-American women. After the new measures take effect, soldiers who wear these hairstyles will have to remove them or cover them with wigs or extensions if they do not want to face administrative discipline.
Army veteran “Tonya” [name has been changed to protect identity], who has dreadlocks, spoke to The Stream about her opposition to the new rules, which she called “deliberate.”
“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.”
The updates to grooming regulations were approved on March 6 by Secretary of the Army John McHugh. The Stream reached out to the Army with questions regarding the new grooming guidelines, and was referred to previous statements made by Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond F. Chandler.
“We’ve gone through a series of revisions and briefings to try to find something that’s reasonable, affordable and feasible within the Army that aligns itself with our professional responsibilities,” said Chandler’s statement.
According to a study by the Pew Research Center, African-American women represent nearly a third of all women in the armed forces and enlist at higher rates than any other demographic.