Thursday, April 28, 2011

Should You Need a License to Braid Hair? A Woman Files a Lawsuit Over the Issue


by Dr. Boyce Watkins, Your Black World – Scholarship in Action 

Jestina Clayton is a woman in Utah who is originally from Sierra Leone in West Africa.  She does African braiding part-time in order to make extra money.  She is now being confronted with the loss of significant income, since a law in the state of Utah claims that you must have a full cosmetology license in order to braid hair.

Clayton filed suit this week in the court of law.  She is being backed by the Institute for Justice, a Virginia-based organization that helps people like Clayton challenge unjust laws.

“African hair braiding is safe, and you shouldn’t need the government’s permission to practice this trade,” said Paul Avelar, her attorney. “Both the federal and Utah  constitutions protect every individual’s right to earn an honest living in their chosen occupation free from pointless government interference. When the government imposes unreasonable regulations, as it has done here, courts must protect the individuals’ rights. No one should have to hire a lawyer or lobbyist just to braid hair.”

Clayton said that she’d originally called the Cosmetology Board to determine if a license was necessary for her to braid hair.

“They told me I did not need a cosmetology license as long as I was not using chemicals,” she said.

After someone reported her business, she is now faced with the daunting cost of trying to get the license, which can be as high as $18,000 and require 2,000 hours of coursework.

“Licensing laws are a convenient cover for protecting a regulated industry from competition,” explained Tim Keller, executive director of IJ-Arizona.  “By forcing hair braiders to get an expensive license, cosmetology schools are
guaranteed tuition-paying students and licensed cosmetologists are protected from competition, forcing consumers to pay more.”

This case is an important one for Ms. Clayton to fight, because hair care is an important industry for slews of black women all across America.  Additionally, black women should be insulted by the fact that the hair care industry that they put billions of dollars into is controlled by people who are not black.  Ms. Clayton is right to fight fire with fire by taking this case to court, and other black hair care providers would be wise to take note to learn how to gain a greater stake in the industry that drains money out of the pockets of black women everywhere.

My God daughter went to “hair school” after she graduated from high school.  Although I’d voted for her to attend college, I eventually embraced the idea and started doing my research.  Once I found out about the massive amounts of money being spent by black women in this industry, I encouraged my God daughter to accompany her hair stylist training with a few lessons on entrepreneurship.  This would hopefully position her to be able to independently provide for her family in an industry that is not going to disappear any time soon.  Many black women would rather starve than to let their hair go south, so the money will likely be flowing in perpetuity.

The point in all this is to say that we’ve got to be more creative in how we live our lives.  Black people have long been free, but we still haven’t learned how to be independent.  As long as we’re depending on others outside our community to provide us with the things we need (especially jobs), we will always remain vulnerable.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition.  To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.

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