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Natural hair braiding supported across the political spectrum

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“One thing I don’t see around me [here] is someone who actually wears weave and has hair braiding,” said Misty to the House Committee on Corporations on Tuesday evening. “Every month I get my hair braided… I’ve been getting my hair braided, no chemicals to my hair. What you see now is synthetic hair that is crocheted into my hair… This is not damaging. This is natural. I’ve gone into people’s homes to get my hair braided, didn’t have any problems. They washed their hands, when they’re done with it they wash their hands. I’ve never had lice. I’ve never had any issues and I’ve been getting my hair braided since I was little.”

The committee was hearing testimony of H7565, introduced by Representative Anastasia Williams (Democrat, District 9, Providence), which would “would exempt natural hair braiders from the requirement to be licensed as hairdressers or cosmeticians, and would define the practice of natural hair braiding” upon passage. The bill was opposed in committee by representatives from cosmetology schools, who want women to pay for training and licensing.

As a young mom, continued Misty, “I love doing my hair, getting my hair done. I would love to even learn how to braid but one thing I will not do is go into a cosmetology school and pick up a loan for over $1500, $2000. I have an 18 year-old that’s getting ready to go to college and one that’s on his way right behind her. Where would I find that kind of money to go to school for myself to take up hair braiding when hair braiding’s been done since I was a little girl, out of the home?

“We’ve been doing this for years, so why should we make mothers that are already in poverty, trying to make ends meet, to go to school for hair braiding? I don’t understand the concept of that. If we’re dealing with chemicals, if we’re dealing with colors, absolutely. That’s necessary to know and you do need to be educated for that. But for hair braiding? I don’t know if you can teach hair braiding, because it has to be a passion, you have to know, you have to be able to pick up on that… Hair braiding has to be in your heart. It has to be something that you can pick up naturally.

“Going into a hair salon to get your hair braided is a hundred and something dollars,” concluded Misty. “You tell me a mom that’s on welfare, how can she afford to spend a hundred and something dollars on her hair?”


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Christina Walsh is the director of activism and coalitions at the Institute for Justice (IJ), a national public interest, civil liberties law firm that has advocated for the rights of African-style hair braiders for 25 years.

Rhode Island should not license something as safe and common as braiding hair,” wrote Walsh in her written testimony. “But to braid hair legally here, braiders must obtain 1,500 hours of irrelevant training in hairdressing and cosmetic therapy, or cosmetology – coursework that starts at $15,000 – learning how to use dyes and chemicals, practices braiders reject. But braiding is not cosmetology.”

“The way to get women off of welfare, the way to create economic opportunity, particularly for recent immigrants, is not to force them to spend $15,000 in cosmetology school,” Walsh told the committee. She recommended that the committee take “any opposition you hear from the cosmetology schools here today with the biggest grain of salt that you can find…

“They don’t teach braiding.”

Michael Stenhouse runs the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity, a free market think tank. He would see natural hair braiding exempted because it’s a prime example of the kind of burdensome licensing practices his group opposes. “Before you impose a license on somebody there must be documented cases of systematic public safety” issues, said Stenhouse.

Here are the five people, all representing cosmetology schools, who oppose the legislation.


Rep. Williams accused of ‘bullying,’ pushing woman who testified against hair bill

I had cameras in the room. I was not outside in the hallway where this alleged altercation took place. Inside the room the discussion was heated at times but I saw nothing violent or threatening. My camera was on the whole time. Maybe this is a good reason not to hold committee meetings in rooms without cameras at the State House?


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Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for half a decade. Uprise RI is his new project, and he's doing all he can to make it essential reading. atomicsteve@gmail.com