For many black people, hair braiding is uneventful. Short of being overcharged or cornrowed by a stylist whose work produces baby Botox effects, (Tight braids, yanked hairlines and high eyebrows, anyone?) the service is ordinary. However, hair-braiding legislation and policies complicate many braiders’ ability to make an honest living.
There’s Yolanda Dings, a 36-year-old mother of one. A hair braider, she contacted the Des Moines Register about La’James International College in Johnston, Iowa. According to Dings, the school had students doing janitorial work and miscellaneous tasks unrelated to what they want to pursue. In a May story, the Register highlighted overlaps between the braids that Dings wants to provide and state-required expenses.
The problem for Dings, and others similarly situated, lies when a state classifies hair braiding as cosmetology. Although Dings is uninterested in waxing eyebrows and cutting and styling hair, “cosmetologists” are required to complete more than 2,000 hours of cosmetology training. Iowa is one of about a handful of states that require hair braiders to obtain such training. Oftentimes, the training does not include extensive natural hair training or braiding education.
But, if Dings follows Sierra Leone native and Utah hair braider Jestina Clayton’s route and sues the state, she might win. Last year, federal judge David Sam sided with Clayton when he struck down the state cosmetology scheme. As a result, her right to braid hair without a cosmetology license was protected.Similar to Iowa, the license in Utah would have been costly for 2,000 hours of mandated training.
Sam decided that the licensing scheme violated Clayton’s right to due process and equal protection as an African hair stylist whose only service was hair braiding—not chemical alterations or other high risk services.
Dings and Clayton highlight a growing natural hair community, which includes women within the Diaspora who turn down chemically relaxed hair for styles that more closely resemble their hair as it grows out of their heads. Natural hair, while gaining popularity, remains controversial in conservative professions and generationally. Some blacks still find natural hair unkempt and reminiscent of Buckwheat and Mammy archetypes.
So, are state legislatures taking cues from black people? Or attempting to regulate that which they do not understand? Does the buck trump the black?
In March, Georgia State University hosted a panel entitled, “Black Women, Their Hair & The Work Place – A Dialogue.” Louisiana meteorologist Rhonda Lee was fired after explaining her hair to a viewer who made disparaging remarks about Lee’s cropped natural via Facebook. Hampton University made news for its dreadlocks and braids ban for male business students. Glamour magazine cautioned black women against natural hairstyles in the workplace. Reader backlash resulted in an editor’s resignation.
Some could argue that regulating braiding doesn’t differ from regulating other beauty procedures. However, in the case of, say, tanning beds, extensive research shows negative effects of unnatural rays on one’s skin and increased skin cancer likelihood. While overly tight braids can lead to hair loss, debilitating diseases like cancer have not been connected with the style.
Besides, Iowa boasts a 4.7% unemployment rate, about half of the national average. Letting braiders be could further decrease that number.