Here is a recent article update on the hair regulations instituted by the United States Army. I also researched how the U.S. Army fares in relation to the other United States Armed Forces, including the Navy, Marines, Air Force and the U.S. Coast Guard. I originally posted on this issue here.
Army’s ban on dreadlocks, other styles seen as offensive to some African-Americans
- Army’s updated appearance guidelines ban many African-American hairstyles
- African-American soldiers; scholars say rules against dreadlocks, twists, cornrows are biased
- Army says the regulation is needed to maintain a professional, uniform look among soldiers
- Controversy touches on historic tensions about black hair and white beauty standards
Washington (CNN) — The U.S. Army’s new ban on many types of ethnic hairstyles has African-American women who wear their coifs in dreadlocks, braids and cornrows in a twist.
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.
Currently, the petition has more than 13,000 signatures.
“We feel let down,” Jacobs told the Army Times. “I think, at the end of the day, a lot of people don’t understand the complexities of natural hair. A lot of people, instead of educating themselves, they think dreadlocks and they think Bob Marley, or they see women with really big Afros and they think that’s the only thing we can do with our hair.”
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.
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.
During slavery and for generations after, hair texture, along with skin complexion, was used to classify which slaves were more valuable, given jobs in the master’s house rather than the field, and — by default — deemed beautiful.
Straighter hair, lighter skin and features that looked white were considered preferred traits, African-American scholars noted.
Those values were internalized and perpetuated within the black community for years in a way that was particularly damaging to the self-esteem of black women, African American scholars said.
“The gender dynamic here is also important; hair is so tied to the idea of black womanhood and self-esteem,” Neal said. “There have been many stories, for example, of the extra scrutiny black women with locs or dreads face going through airport security. The Army’s ban is just another knock from the dominant society that somehow black women are out of step with the so-called status quo.”
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.
That type of pressure is “both unfair and racially biased,” said Imani Perry, an African-American studies professor at Princeton University.
“While it is reasonable for the military to expect some degree of conformity and neatness in hairstyles, those expectations ought to take into account the variety of natural hair textures people have,” Perry said. “For many African-American women who have tightly curled, coily or kinky hair, cornrows braids and locs are styles that allow for ease of close to the head grooming. Hence, banning those hairstyles puts black female soldiers in a difficult bind with respect to the requirement.”
That type of pressure is “both unfair and racially biased,” Perry said adding that the Army conformity isn’t absolute because female soldiers are allowed to wear their hair long.
“Likewise, consideration ought to be made for different textures of hair,” Perry said. “Otherwise, a burden is placed disproportionately upon some soldiers due to an immutable characteristic, natural hair texture that is tied to race.”
HLN.com’s AJ Willingham contributed to this report
I looked into how the other branches of the U.S. military handles hair requirements:
>Ch 5 1. Short Hair Length. Short hair is defined as hair length that extends no more than 1 inch from the scalp (excluding bangs). Hair may be no shorter than 1/4 inch from the scalp, but may be evenly graduated to within 2 inches of the hair line. Bangs, if worn, may not fall into the line of sight, may not interfere with the wear of all headgear, and when worn with headgear must lie neatly against the head. The width of the bangs may extend to the hairline at the temple. MARADMIN 504/07 >Ch 5 2. Medium Hair Length. Medium hair is defined as hair that does not extend beyond the collar’s lower edge (in all uniforms), and extends more than 1 inch from the scalp. Medium hair may fall naturally in uniform and is not required to be secured. When worn loose, graduated hair styles are acceptable, but the length, from the front to the back, may not exceed one inch difference in length, from the front to the back (see Figure 1-3). The regulations for the wear of bangs detailed above are relevant. No portion of the bulk of the hair as measured from the scalp will exceed approximately 2 inches (see Figure 1-3). MARADMIN 504/07 3. Long Hair. Long hair is defined as hair that extends beyond the collar’s lower edge. Long hair will be neatly and inconspicuously fastened or pinned, except that bangs may be worn. The regulations for the wear of bangs detailed above are relevant. No portion of the bulk of the hair, as measured from the scalp, will exceed approximately 2 inches (except a bun, which may extend a maximum of 3 inches from the scalp) and no wider than the width of the head. MARADMIN 504/07 >Ch 5 (b) Hairstyles. Faddish and exaggerated styles to include shaved portions of the scalp other than the neckline, designs cut in the hair, unsecured ponytails (except during physical training), and unbalanced or lopsided hairstyles are prohibited. Hair will be styled so as not to interfere with the proper wear of all uniform headgear. All headgear will fit snugly and comfortably around the largest part of the head without distortion or excessive gaps. When headgear is worn, hair should not protrude at distinct angles from under the edges. Hairstyles, which do not allow the headgear to be worn in this manner, are prohibited. Examples of hairstyles considered to be faddish or exaggerated and thus not authorized for wear in uniform are (this list is not all-inclusive); locks and twists [MODERATOR: Locks and twists are primarily a hairstyle worn by Black American women] (not including French rolls/twists), hair sculpting (eccentric directional flow, twists, texture or spiking), buns or braids with loose hair extending at the end, multiple braids that do not start at the top of the head, hair styles with severe angles, and loose unsecured hair (not to include bangs) when medium/long hair is worn up. MARADMIN 504/07 >Ch 5 1. Braids. Medium and long hair may be braided. Multiple braiding (defined as more than two braids) is authorized. When worn, multiple braids shall be of uniform dimension, small in diameter (approx. 1/4 inch), show no more than 1/8 of an inch of scalp between the braids and must be tightly interwoven to present a neat, professional, well groomed appearance. Foreign material (i.e., beads, decorative items) shall not be braided into the hair. Braids must continue to the end of the hair in one direction, in a straight line, and can be worn loose per medium hair length guidelines or secured to the head in the same manner as described for medium or long length hair styles. Ends shall be secured only with inconspicuous rubber bands. If multiple braids are worn they must encompass the whole head. MARADMIN 504/07 >Ch 5 2. Hair Extensions. Hair extensions are authorized for medium and long hair only. Extensions must have the same general appearance as the individual’s natural hair. MARADMIN 504/07 >Ch 5 3. Wigs. Wigs, if worn in uniform, must look natural and conform to the above regulations.”
United States Navy: “You will be obligated to keep your hair neat, clean and well-groomed. Your haircut and style should present a balanced appearance. Ponytails, pigtails, widely spaced individual hanging locks and braids that stick out from your head are not allowed. You can, however, have multiple braids.”
“220.127.116.11. Braids, micro-braids and cornrows are authorized. However, they must be a natural looking color for human beings similar to the individual’s hair color; conservative (moderate, being within reasonable limits; not excessive or extreme) and not present a faddish appearance. A braid is three or more portions/strands of interwoven hair. When worn, multiple braids shall be of uniform dimension, small in diameter (approx ¼ inches), show no more than ¼ inch of scalp between the braids and must be tightly interwoven to present a neat, professional and well-groomed appearance. Braids must continue to the end of the hair in one direction, in a straight line, and may be worn loose or a secured style within hair standards in paragraph 3.1.3 above. Dreadlocks, (defined as long strands of hair that have been twisted closely from the scalp down to the tips; heavy matted coils of hair which form by themselves, eventually fusing together to form a single dread; or unkempt, twisted, matted individual parts of hair), shaved head, flattops and military high-and-tight cuts are not authorized hairstyles for female Airmen.”
“Haircuts and styles will present a balanced appearance. The hair may touch, but not fall below a horizontal line level with the bottom edge of the back of the collar neatly and inconspicuously fastened, pinned or secured to the head and must not fall below the lower edge of the collar. No portion of the bulk of the hair as measured from the scalp will exceed two inches and will be conservative and conform to the guidelines listed herein. When a hairstyle be of uniform dimension, small in diameter and tightly interwoven in symmetrical fore and aft rows that minimize scalp exposure and present a neat, professional, well-groomed appearance. Hairpins (bobby pins), small barrettes, elastic bands, scrunchies, and small combs that are plain black, dark blue, brown, or color similar to the individual’s hair are authorized. Widely spaced individual hanging locks, dreadlocks, braids, or pigtails that protrude from the head are not authorized. Lopsided and extremely asymmetrical styles are not authorized. Foreign material (e.g., ribbons, beads, decorative items) will not be woven into the hair. Braid ends will not protrude from the head, and will be secured only with inconspicuous material that matches the color of the hair. Headbands or sweatbands are not authorized. Hair will not extend below the eyebrows [MODERATOR: I take this to mean no bangs.] Hair accessories shall not add more than two inches of bulk or interfere with the proper wearing of all style of hats.”.
In the meantime, those of you who wish to support the petition against the Army’s bans on Black American women’s hair styles may sign the petition here.
As of my posting this information, the petition had 15,823 signatures.
They need 84,177 to reach their goal of 100,000 signatures by April 19, 2014.