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Hair reg petition fails to force White House response

Apr. 23, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Jasmine Jacobs, who started the White House petition to seek reconsideration of the Army's hairstyle rules, is not disappointed it didn't hit 100,000 signatures. The petition succeeded in generating debate.
Jasmine Jacobs, who started the White House petition to seek reconsideration of the Army's hairstyle rules, is not disappointed it didn't hit 100,000 signatures. The petition succeeded in generating debate. (Courtesy)
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A White House petition calling for the president to order the Army to reconsider its new grooming regulation fell short of its goal, but the female sergeant who started the petition still considers her effort a win.

Jasmine Jacobs, who exited service in the Georgia National Guard this month, said the petition garnered more than 17,500 signatures before it expired Saturday. The number didn’t come close to the 100,000 signatures necessary to trigger a White House response.

“I feel really good about it,” Jacobs said. “I felt like a lot of people spoke up, and I got a lot of support from it. It was very exciting to hear that members of Congress were also stepping up and supporting it.”

Jacobs’ petition stemmed from the new Army Regulation 670-1, published March 31, that bans most twists, dreadlocks and large cornrows — styles predominantly worn by African-American women. Though it’s meant to help make soldiers’ appearances consistent, some black military women have criticized the update as racially biased.

Jacobs and other black female soldiers, some of whom wrote to Army Times, said they believe the new hairstyle regulation is unfair and that it effectively outlaws natural hair.

The petition sparked controversy online, drawing thousands of comments on social media. It also prompted the female members of the Congressional Black Caucus to write a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

In an April 10 letter, the lawmakers urged Hagel to reconsider the regulation and said the changes are “discriminatory” against women of color in uniform.

“Though we understand the intent of the updated regulation is to ensure uniformity in our military, it is seen as discriminatory rules targeting soldiers who are women of color with little regard to what is needed to maintain their natural hair,” the letter states.

They say that while Army officials have said the regulation applies to all soldiers, regardless of race, references in the rule calling hairstyles worn mostly by black women “unkempt” and “matted” are offensive and show a lack of “cultural sensitivity.”

A Defense Department spokesman said a response would be prompt.

As of Wednesday, the caucus had not heard from DoD, said Femi Kirby, the group’s communications director.

The Army has said soldiers can submit recommended changes to AR 670-1 by filling out Department of the Army Form 2028.

Officials also defended the process by which the new grooming rules were devised.

Hundreds of women, including black women, were involved in the process of developing the new female hair standards contained in the newly published Army Regulation 670-1, officials have said.

In addition, the hairstyle rules have not changed since 2005, officials said. The updated AR 670-1 merely clarified and more clearly defined what was authorized and what wasn’t, they said.

Jacobs, who had long planned to separate from the Guard, said she didn’t expect the reaction her petition received.

“It’s definitely been a little overwhelming,” she said. “And even though it didn’t meet the 100,000 [signature threshold], the fact that so many people stood up in support of it was a win within itself.”

And her pending separation didn’t deter her from trying to make her voice heard.

“It was so much bigger than ‘I’m only in for a couple more months,’ ” she said. “I felt, at the end of the day, it’s worth it to push for the cause and make people dialog and educate themselves, which was one of my main goals.”

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