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Editorial: Army should review controversial hair rules

Apr. 6, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
This PowerPoint slide shows some of the unauthorized hairstyles for women. A White House petition opposing the rules has garnered more than 11,000 signatures.
This PowerPoint slide shows some of the unauthorized hairstyles for women. A White House petition opposing the rules has garnered more than 11,000 signatures. (Army)
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Army leaders probably anticipated blowback from soldiers when they tightened tattoo rules. But a more serious complaint has been leveled against service leaders for their revision to AR 670-1: They are showing racial bias.

Thousands of soldiers and civilians have accused the service of creating rules targeting black women. These critics argue the Army, through a handful of rules, has essentially made natural hair illegal for these female troops.

The intent of the Army was to professionalize the service. The rules prohibit soldiers from wearing hair that exceeds 2 inches from the scalp. Twists and dreadlocks are outlawed.

Cornrows and multiple braids are OK, but they can only be up to 1/4-inch in diameter.

These standards were not made without consulting women. Hundreds of female soldiers were surveyed about the rules, and a black female sergeant major led a focus group discussion.

These are positive efforts, but clearly something went wrong and the Army has upset a fair-sized contingent of the force.

Yes, the Army just spent months finalizing a hefty list of rules that are now finally released. The instinct from the top may be to let them stand — unchecked.

That would be a mistake.

The service should work quickly to form a diverse, independent panel of enlisted and commissioned leaders to research specific concerns raised by these female soldiers.

This panel could submit recommendations to the top. Perhaps it will mean more change, perhaps not. But at least the concerns of these women would be heard.

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