So the state of Illinois is backtracking on a law that requires hair braiders to get a cosmetology degree and be licensed before they sit clients in their chairs, and it's got me feeling some kinda ways. Some background from THIS Associated Press story:
Illinois requires hair braiders to get a cosmetology degree — which can take 1,500 hours and cost $15,000 — and then apply for a license, just like people who give haircuts, manicures and facials. Proponents say the rules are needed to protect consumers if they develop problems such as hair loss or have service complaints.
But the law seems ridiculous to many braiders, the majority of whom are African and African-American women who learned as children and have refined their talent in kitchens and on stoops for generations.
"Hair braiding is not cosmetology," said Alie Kabba, executive director of the Chicago-based United African Organization. "You cannot ask an engineer to get a degree in history."
The story goes on to say that hair braiders are ignoring the law and either working under threat of being shut down by state regulators or taking their shops underground so they won't get caught braiding without a license. New legislation passed by the state legislator and awaiting the governor's signature would allow licenses to be given to hair braiders who can prove they've practiced their craft for at least two years and pay a fee; new braiders would get a license after undergoing 300 hours of training in hair braiding and sanitation.
Now, I get the argument the stylists are making: Hair braiding is something we African-American and African women learn from little ol'; I taught myself how to braid hair at age five, just from watching my mom, and Mari and Lila, ages 10 and 7 respectively, are learning on their American Girl dolls. Learning how to get nice with hair braiding is almost a rite of passage for black girls—and, if you have a little girl with a thick head of hair, it's a necessity, too.
But hair braiding is not innate. And I can't tell you how many times I sat in a "professional" hair braiding salon that was a little too unsanitary for my tastes, where stylists snatched my hair so tight I could barely see straight—a practice that could and, on a few occasions, did, pull my hair out—and nobody could offer up tips for how to protect my hair from damage. Understand, once someone jacked up my hair, I never went back, but each time I wanted to wear my hair in box braids or cornrows, I had to take my chances with a new braid stylist until I could find one who knew what she was doing and cared enough about her clientele and business that she bothered to sweep the floor, sanitize her combs, wash the towels she used while she did her job, and knew and cared enough about black hair care to not only create a style, but do it without damaging our hair.
Trust me when I tell you, those stylists/shops were rare.
I get that making someone get a cosmetology license, i.e. take hundreds of hours worth of classes on how to cut white folks' hair and apply relaxers—is kind of a waste. But why not create a licensing curriculum that teaches braiders how to braid hair without damaging it? Or how to tend to natural hair so that you help it, rather than harm it? Or to show stylists how to do something as simple as dip their combs into barbicide so I don't catch cooties from the last 100 women who had their hair done with the same dirty rat tooth comb?
More importantly, why not have hair braiders get real licenses so they can be held accountable when their styling goes wrong or they don't follow the simplest hygiene rules in their shops? I'll tell you this much: I'd be much more comfortable sitting in the chair of a trained, licensed stylist—and entrusting my daughters to said stylist—if I knew I could hold her accountable for her work and the care of her shop.
It makes me salty that Illinois and 10 other states in the union have been punked into excusing hair braiders from getting licensed under the claim that "black women learn to braid hair in the kitchens and on front stoops so they're experts" and that forcing them to be licensed is unfair at best, borderline racist at worst.
I readily raise my hand and say that though I can braid some hair and have for more than 35 years, I'm not a professional.
Know that the same thing can be said of plenty other women who hang an "open for business" sign in the window, tape on the wall a couple styles ripped from Black Beauty magazine, and charge upward of $300 per head for hairstyles that do way more to harm our hair than help.