Since 2009, Pennsylvania has required hair braiders to have a state-issued license, mandating that a braider must have completed 300 hours of training before a license can be issued by the state board of cosmetology. Presently, there are 39 states where a license is necessary in order to braid hair in a salon setting, creating a situation that has created an uproar among the thousands of predominantly African-American, Caribbean and Latino braiders who support themselves and their families by performing these services.
The licensing of hair braiders has become such a contentious topic that some organizations, such as the American Hair Braiders and Natural Haircare Association (AHNHA), have been created in order to challenge cosmetology regulations in states where braiding licenses are mandatory. Even the Virginia-based Institute for Justice has taken up the crusade, stating that: “the over-regulation of hairbraiders is one symptom of the larger disregard for economic liberty, the bulwark of the American Dream.”
This sentiment is echoed by numerous owners of braiding salons, many of whom imply that the regulation of braiding is a form of racism, as it severely limits the entrepreneurial opportunities of minorities, many of which celebrate braiding as a form of cultural expression.
On the other side of the argument are the powers-that-be who create the laws and issue the licenses, who argue that licensing is necessary to ensure the health and safety of the public. Braiders, like hairstylists, estheticians and nail technicians, should be trained in sanitation and disinfection procedures designed to prevent the spread of ringworm, pinkeye and other contagious conditions.
As a 15-year veteran of the salon industry I can understand both sides of the argument. However, I’m inclined to take the side of the Institute for Justice and the AHNHA. The problem is that there are very few cosmetology schools, especially outside of urban areas, with programs designed solely for those who wish to become licensed hair braiders. In other words, depending on where you live, you may have no other option but to pay $20,000 to $30,000 and attend 1000-2000 hours of schooling (or 2100, if you happen to live in Nebraska, Iowa or South Dakota) just to obtain legal employment as a hair braider. It’s the equivalent of going to eight years of medical school in order to be a nurse, or being forced to graduate from law school in order to obtain employment as a paralegal.
That being said, I do believe some level of regulation is necessary for public safety, but this form of regulation should be overseen by local authorities rather than state agencies. Since the primary argument for the licensure of braiders is the need for proper sanitation and sterilization, it seems to me that the “policing” of hair braiding shops should be left to local health departments rather than state agencies. Until Betty the Braider starts wielding scissors or applying chemicals to a client’s head, the need for a state-issued license is ridiculous.
I also do believe there is a racial component to the argument, and I say this because regulations in many states are not fair and balanced. For instance, in order to braid hair legally in New Mexico, one must not only obtain a state-issued license, but one must also complete 1600 hours of cosmetology training. However, a person needs neither schooling nor a license in order to be a tattoo artist in New Mexico. North Dakota is also an unregulated state when it comes to tattooing, yet in order to braid hair one must go to school for 1800 hours and obtain a license. How on earth does this make any sense? One career involves permanently modifying a client’s body by injecting ink into the skin with a needle, and the other involves, well, twisting hair. I’d venture a guess that 95% of professional tattoo artists are white and 95% of professional hair braiders aren’t. If that’s not a display of racism, it’s certainly a display of supreme idiocy on the part of state legislators, and an insult to anyone who supports themselves or their families by braiding hair.