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Isis Brantley Headshot

Hairbraiding Is the Latest Civil Rights Struggle

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Sixteen years ago, I was arrested by seven undercover cops, handcuffed and dragged out of my own salon in Texas. I was guilty of the "crime" of braiding hair without a cosmetology license.

Over the next decade, I fought hard for my civil rights. In 2007, the Texas legislature finally came to its senses and created a separate hair braiding certificate. That requires only 35 hours of training. Soon I was "grandfathered" in and became the very first natural hair care expert recognized by the state.

I thought my struggle for economic liberty was over. But the fashion police are at it again. This time, I'm taking them to federal court.

I've been teaching African hairbraiding since 1984. African hairbraiding has a proud lineage and dates back centuries. It's all natural so braiders don't use any chemicals, dyes, sprays, or anything that can permanently damage someone's hair or the environment.

Through my school, the Institute for Ancestral Braiding in Dallas, I've taken in hundreds of young ladies and trained them how to braid. My clients include everyone from the homeless to Grammy award-winning neo soul artist Erykah Badu. By passing on these skills and traditions, I've helped many women support themselves and their communities.

But if I try to teach that 35-hour course to my students, they won't be allowed to work legally as hairbraiders. The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR) says I have to be a state-licensed barber instructor and open a barber college to teach hairbraiding. The government will not let me teach at my own school.

That means I would need to complete 750 hours of training, even though I've been teaching braiding for almost 30 years. Meanwhile, complying with Texas' regulations would cost me well over $20,000. In order to legally teach others how to braid hair from my own school, I would have to convert my salon into a 2,000 square-foot "barber school," complete with at least 10 chairs, five wash stations and other expensive equipment I will never use. My rent would skyrocket -- I would be forced to pay four times as much.

This is crazy. Braiders are not barbers. What I want to do is an all-natural art form. It has nothing to do with chemicals, cosmetology, or owning a barbering school.

But the TDLR would waive all these requirements if I work for my competition. Texas would let me work as a "guest instructor" at a barber college and teach braiding there, instead of my own Institute for Ancestral Braiding. Self-employment should not be a crime.

Texas is violating my constitutional rights. With the help of the Institute for Justice, a nationwide civil rights law firm, I'm taking Texas to court. Just last year, IJ helped another African hairbraider sue Utah and defeated that state's harsh braiding restrictions. Winning this case would defend the right to earn an honest living.

Isis Brantley is the proud owner of the Institute for Ancestral Braiding and is a client of the Institute for Justice.