The Texas Senate passed a bill yesterday that would ease restrictions on practitioners of traditional African hair braiding. It might surprise you to learn this fight has been going on in Texas for more than a decade, and it appears to be coming to a close as the Senate passes legislation off to the Governor’s desk for his final approval.
The movement is led by Isis Brantley, a Dallas stylist who has been practicing African hair braiding since 1984. Brantley was arrested in 1997 for conducting her business without a cosmetology license, and has since been fighting for the right to braid hair without needing the credentials required of traditional barbers and hairstylists.
“I fought for my economic liberty because I believe there is a lot of hope for young people who seek to earn an honest living,” said Brantley in a statement on the House’s passage of HB 2717 last month. “This vote by the Texas House means aspiring hair braiders from across the state are one step closer to being able to practice an ancestral art that dates back centuries, and do so without a government permission slip.”
Brantley argues that existing cosmetology regulations in the state add unnecessary burdens when applied to hair braiding, requiring hours of school and tuition dollars for beauty school, as well as equipment like sinks and training stations in salon facilities. “Licensing should be reserved for occupations that have a real and substantial safety problem or interest,” said Arif Panju, Brantley’s attorney from the Institute for Justice, at the committee meeting for the bill.
In January, a federal judge ruled the law barring hair braiders from practicing without a cosmetology license unconstitutional on the grounds that the regulation lacks a “rational connection” to the ability to engage in hair braiding, and that the requirements for sinks in braiding establishments to be contradictory considering hair braiders aren’t legally trained to use them anyway.
Traditional hairstyling requires knowledge of chemicals, sharp objects, and sinks, whereas natural braiders typically use only their hands. Deregulating the practice is an easy sell on both sides of party lines because not only is it seen as unnecessary regulation, but it also stifles young entrepreneurship and the upward mobility of urban minority communities like Brantley’s.
There was, however, some pushback when the bill originally started its journey in the House. Because the federal courts already ruled the law unconstitutional, some argued that time in the Lege spent on an unconstitutional statute was wasted—and especially hypocritical considering that sodomy laws in Texas are still on the books despite being unenforceable. Republican representative James White had something to say on the discrepancy here:
“Absolutely, there is a difference. [The braiding law] was a way of disenfranchising them out of the marketplace. I don’t necessarily think this was the case with sodomy.”
Which seems to echo the growing trend of Republicans advocating for minorities in the name of business.
Whatever the reasons or motivations behind the deregulation, Brantley is only one step away from having her practice validated by Texas law. Consider this a good hair day for many.