According to the Institute for Justice, The Tennessee Board of Cosmetology and Barber Examiners has fined more than 30 natural hair shops and dozens of braiders almost $100K since 2009. Their crime? Styling and braiding natural hair without a license.
Tennesee is one of 27 states that do not allow natural hairstylists to work without a license. A license requires at least 300 hours of coursework, which is almost the same as working two months full-time. Furthermore, in Tennessee, there are only 3 schools in the entire state that offer the courses needed for natural hair licensing, making the process even more difficult.
Fatou Diouf, a licensed natural hair professional in Tennesee, has had to pay $16,000 in fines because she employed workers who did not have their license. Diouf claims these fines are “very stressful,” with a repayment plan of almost $830 a month. She’s been struggling to pay this in addition to her rent, supporting her two children, finalizing a divorce, and sending back whatever money she can to her family in Senegal. She has become one of the spokespersons for policy reform regarding this. Most recently, with the Institute for Justice and the Beacon Center, Diouf has testified in favor of a bill that would eliminate natural hair licensing for hairstylists. She reasoned to Forbes, “We can create more employment if this bill passes.”
States that have this license requirement make it harder for entrepreneurs and stylists to find work. Mississippi does not have this law and has over 2,600 braiders registered. All they are required to do is register with the Department of Health and pay a $25 fee. Right across the border in Tennessee, there are only 156 registered natural hair stylists. Many Tennessee braiders and hairstylists travel to Mississipi looking for work and opportunities. Diouf admits she has “struggled to hire braiders,” when they can easily cross state lines and work freely.
HB 1809 and SB 223, sponsored by Gov. Bill Haslam and Rep. David Hawk as well as Sen. Mark Norris have sponsored these two bills which would repeal the state license natural hair stylists. The Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance (which is the umbrella for the state Board of Cosmetology and Barber Examiners) is also backing the bill, which looks promising for undocumented natural hair stylists. Opponents to the bill include licensed natural hair stylists, who argue that license protects the public safety. Nevertheless, there has only been two health and safety complaints against natural hair stylists since 2010.
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Tennesee is moving in line with the 23 states where braiders are free to work without requirements or licensing for natural hair care. Almost half of these states have repealed their former laws, requiring braiders to have licensing only in the past four years. Eight other states, in addition to Tennessee, are currently considering repealing the laws. Currently, Louisiana, Minnesota, Ohio, and Oklahoma have filed bills to repeal specialty braiding licenses while New Jersey, Missouri, Vermont, and Rhode Island have legislation filed to exempt natural hair from cosmetology licensure.
While I do think that the fines are unnecessary and troublesome (as well as expensive) for people to currently obtain, I’m concerned about states making it exempt from cosmetology licensure. Natural hair is nuanced and taking care of it is a science and a process. It would be interesting to see states give more money for research on Black women and natural hair vs shunning us from cosmetology at a whole. While the law is frustrating, being completely discluded could be damaging.
Beauties, what do you think? Tell us in the comment section!