The U.S. Army has not yet officially released its update to AR 670-1, The Wear and Appearance of Army Uniforms and Insignia, but the updated manual is already facing charges of racial bias. The manual, which covers male and female grooming standards as well as the wear of the uniform, is coming under scrutiny for the new female hair standards, in particular.
Traditionally female soldiers have been able to wear their hair loosely if the hair ends above the shoulders, but have had to pin their hair back into a bun at the nape of the neck if the hair touches the bottom of the soldier's collar. The new regulation adds in a lot more stipulations. Twists are out. Braids are allowed, but only if they are less than 1/4 inch thick. Cornrows can only show 1/8th of an inch of scalp in between braids. And hair can not exceed over two inches from the scalp.
Some sample PowerPoint slides demonstrate the new standards.
A petition has been started on the whitehouse.gov site protesting the changes, calling them "racially biased" and that "the lack of regard for ethnic hair is apparent". Al Jazeera quotes soldiers who note that the majority of black women in the Army wear their hair naturally, especially as during deployments soldiers often don't have access to perms or straighteners.
The updated Army regulation is facing push back from other sectors as well. Of particular irritation to soldiers are the new restrictions on tattoos, which had been relaxed during the higher deployment operations tempos of 2003 and after. As one person complained on the Army Times' Website: "So, these tattooed guys were good enough to die for the Army but they aren't good enough for SGM Chandler's pretty boy peace time Army?"
The same, I suppose, could be said about black women's hair. Twists were good enough during combat, but now that the war's over, natural hair is no longer "professional" enough for the United States Army.