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The ban on natural styles such as cornrows is racially biased, African-American women say.

Washington Post

A new Army regulation that bans an array of natural hairstyles has sparked some backlash, with African-American women arguing that the rules have racial and cultural components.

Released on Monday, Army Regulation 670-1 includes multiple rules that specifically address hairstyles such as cornrows, twists and braids that are popular with African-American women. Among the unauthorized styles are dreadlocks and twists, which have been banned since 2005. Braids must be small in diameter.

Army officials told the Army Times that the revisions were approved after a focus group and a survey of hundreds of senior enlisted women reviewed the changes, and that it's premature to discuss the new regulation, which sought to clarify some rules that were already in place.

The move has prompted a White House petition that has gathered more than 10,000 signatures and asks that the Army reconsider the ban. The petition states that 30 percent of women serving in the military are nonwhite, and "these new changes are racially biased, and the lack of regard for ethnic hair is apparent. This policy needs to be reviewed prior to publishing to allow for neat and maintained natural hairstyles."

African-American women are increasingly embracing natural hairstyles and forgoing relaxers. A recent report by Mintel, a consumer research group, showed a 26 percent decline in relaxer sales over the past five years.

Army spokesman Troy Rolan said the regulation "is necessary to maintain uniformity within a military population."

"Many hairstyles are acceptable, as long as they are neat and conservative," he said.