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.

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  1. Chocolate Covered Daydreams

    I realize that it does take skill and training to braid. Anyone can braid but as a business, I believe that it should be done by a licensed braider that is willing to take complete responsibility for the heads that they braid.

    There will always be people that braid from their homes to make a few bucks even if they risk doing it wrong or hair loss.

  2. I agree, and so does my damaged hairline!

  3. I agree that they should have training. Maybe they need a specialized program and license that is just for braiding, dreds and other natural styles that doesn't include cutting and relaxing.

  4. Katie, HappyGirlHair

    I'm for specialized training and licensing too. I get email from moms who have found out the hard way that just because someone charges to braid doesn't mean that she knows how to braid in a way that protects the hair and the delicate hairline. Ouch.

    I would be thrilled to see cosmetology programs that focus on caring for, properly cutting, and styling natural hair.

  5. I'm in complete agreement. I think that braiders should be licensed. I don't think they should be required to complete the same coursework as a full cosmetology licensed, but a modified program could be created. There needs to be some accountability. I once had my hair braided so tight at the crown that it broke off and I was bald for about 4 months in that area.

  6. I understand both sides of this issue. But because so many braiders in these shops braid the hair super tight, I have yet to take my daughter to get her hair 'professionally' braided. If I found a shop that won't sacrifice her healthy natural hair for style, I would be more inclined to support them. So like most of us, mommy does her thing…hair care, style, and braiding to

  7. I see how frustrating it could be for people who have been braiding for years, but at the same time, it is hard to meet someone who is knowledgeable about making the braids look nice AND making sure the natural hair/scalp is cared for. I've heard too many horror stories of people getting their hair ends super glued, hair braided too tight, etc. When asking if they'll braid it somewhat loose, I have had several braiders tell me that "Oh, it'll loosen up after a week" or, "It needs to be tight so it'll stay longer" (I can't walk around with tight bumps and a headache for a full 7 days). There are a lot of braiders that are very good at what they do, but some do need to be formally educated.

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  9. I've been cooking in my kitchen since pre-adolescence…that does not make me a chef. Same applies here.

  10. i read about this in a hair magazine
    its absolutely ridiculous

    jus another way to try stop beng productive

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