WASHINGTON -- New Army regulations meant to help standardized and professionalize soldiers' appearance are now coming under criticism by some black military women, who say changes in the requirement for their hair are racially biased. The Army earlier this week issued new appearance standards, which included bans on most twists, dreadlocks and large cornrows, all styles used predominantly by African-American women with natural hairstyles. More than 11,000 people have signed a White House petition asking President Barack Obama, the commander in chief, to have the military review the regulations to allow for "neat and maintained natural hairstyles." Some black military women, who make up about a third of the women in the armed forces, feel they have been singled out with these new regulations.
"I think that it primarily targets black women, and I'm not in agreement with it," said Patricia Jackson-Kelley of the National Association of Black Military Women. "I don't see how a woman wearing three braids in her hair, how that affects her ability to perform her duty in the military." Even before the current controversy, the association had already planned to showcase the hairstyles of African-American women in the military throughout the years at its national convention in Phoenix in September. Although she also feels the new regulations unfairly target black women, former association president Kathleen Harris also said she could understand why the regulations needed some uniformity. "The military is supposed to be conservative," she said. "My thing is that some folks look gorgeous in their twists, and some people go overboard. The twists are not small twists but they're real large ones, and it doesn't fit the cover, your hat." The changes and several other Army appearance modifications were first published Monday in the Army Times. "The Army is a profession, and one of the ways our leaders and the American public measure our professionalism is by our appearance," Army Sgt. Maj. Raymond F. Chandler III said of the updates on the Army's website. The changes also banned several male hairstyles, including Mohawks and long sideburns. Body piercings were also specifically banned, with an exception made for earrings. Also banned was the use of wireless earpieces outside a vehicle and tattoos visible below the elbow or knee or above the neckline. Current soldiers would be permitted to keep any tattoos not deemed racist, sexist or extremist.