Why Tennessee is fining Black women $100,000 for braiding hair

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Lawmakers in Tennessee are making it difficult for Black salon professionals to make money braiding hair by slapping harsh fines on their businesses if they hire unlicensed braiders, according to Forbes.

That’s a problem for braiders like Fatou Diouf, a small braiding business owner who is suffering because of a stifling $16,000 in fines she’s been ordered to pay.

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One of her braiders reportedly did not have a government license to braid hair in her shop and that runs afoul of the Tennessee Board of Cosmetology and Barber Examiners policy. As a result, Diouf the fine was levied against her as a disciplinary action.

So far, nearly $100,000 in fines were issued to more than 30 different natural hair shops and salons since 2009 in the state for unlicensed braiders, according to Forbes.

Diouf who is making good use of a skill, she said, she learned as a child believes the exorbitant fees levied against her are putting a strain on her livelihood.

The board is also issuing penalties for unlicensed braiding shops and braiders who work out of their home.

A part of the culture

Anyone interested in braiding hair professionally is required to take 300 hours of classes for performing natural hair care services like braiding, locking hair, twisting, wrapping, and weaving.

But Diouf says: “We don’t need 300 hours to know how to wash a clip or a comb.”

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The hair braiding business is dominated by African and African American women and taking classes mean they would have to sacrifice financially for two months and attend classes. The courses run from $5,000 to $15,00 for tuition and only three schools in the whole state offer courses.

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Most of the civil penalties are $1,000.

While most of the braiders across the country can work without a license, Diouf is left fighting for her right to eliminate the state license requirement. She is working with the Institute for Justice and the Beacon Center, and has testified in favor of a bill that would eliminate the state’s license for natural hair stylists and the fines levied against them.

Utah woman sues

In 2012, a Utah woman who braids hair to supplement her family’s income won a federal lawsuit against the state over its licensing process for her craft, arguing state regulations violated her right to earn a living.

A federal judge ruled that the state’s requirement that Jestina Clayton get a cosmetology license to braid hair was “unconstitutional and invalid” because regulations are irrelevant to Clayton’s profession.

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Clayton, 30, sued after she found it would be illegal to run a hair-braiding business without a license, in part because of public health and safety concerns. Clayton said she learned how to braid hair as a 5-year-old in her West African home country of Sierra Leone, and she was doing it at her suburban Salt Lake City home to support her three children — ages 7, 5 and 1 — while her husband finishes school.

“I’m excited. I can’t believe it,” Clayton said of the ruling. “You go in with the hope, but sometimes things don’t go your way.”