Here’s a situation where a black woman in the White House could make a difference.
Earlier this week, the U.S. Army released its new appearance and grooming regulations, AR 670-1, and it was a real burn for African-American female soldiers.
The updated rules ban twists, multiple braids bigger than a quarter of an inch in diameter, and dreadlocks of any size. Cornrows also can’t be bigger than a quarter of an inch.
As of Wednesday afternoon, nearly 8,000 people had signed a petition calling on President Barack Obama to order the Army to reconsider the regulations because they are “racially biased.”
The petition pointed out that more than 30 percent of females serving in the military are of a race other than white.
“AR 670-1 offer little or no options for females with natural hair… These new changes are racially biased and the lack of regard for ethnic hair is apparent,” the petition stated.
Spc. Jasmine Jacobs, of the Georgia National Guard who wears her hair in twists, created the petition on the “We the People” website.
“It’s just that myself, as well as other females with natural hair, we don’t have any options left now that these new regulations are in place, especially when we are going into the field,” Jacobs told me in a telephone interview.
“Double strand twists and flat twists, those are both out of regulation. And the definition for dreadlocks was very vague. People think about dreadlocks as being chunky and matted, but there are other kinds of locks. The education wasn’t there when the policy was made.”
Stephen J. Platt, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon, defended the updated regulations.
“Many hairstyles are acceptable, as long as they are neat and conservative. In addition, headgear is expected to fit snugly and comfortably, without bulging or distortion from the intended shape of the headgear and without excessive gaps. Unfortunately, some hairstyles do not meet this standard or others listed in AR 670-1,” Platt said in an official statement.
Jacobs has worn her hair in twists for four years and said the style has not interfered with her headgear.
While natural hairstyles are banned, the new regulations allow female soldiers to wear hair extensions, weaves and wigs.
“You can have wigs, and extensions and weaves, but I can’t wear my hair the way it grows out of my head,” Jacobs said.
That’s absurd. But it will take 100,000 signatures before the Obama administration will issue a response, according to the website.
Meanwhile, the new rules are sparking heated debate on the Internet.
“For the most part, a lot of people are supporting the petition and saying it is good that I am taking a stand,” Jacobs said.
“But there are people saying I am pulling the race card and I’m just wanting for black females to have carte blanche while everyone else has to follow regulations.” Jacobs is hoping to get enough signatures on the petition to at least prompt Army officials to sit down and discuss the new grooming policy.
Although an Army spokesman said the “regulations went through an extensive decision-making process with continuous input from various levels of leaders across the Army,” the regulations are nonetheless biased against black women.
Black female soldiers shouldn’t have to straighten their natural hair, or bind it in thin cornrows that tend to irritate the scalp, to be in regulation.
But this controversy is about more than natural hair.
This is about the Army’s failure to respect part of what is now a fully diverse military operation.
As a black woman, and someone who has made the struggles of military families a priority, Michelle Obama is the right voice to make this point.