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Legislatively Speaking

Wisconsin Senate Votes on Hair Braiding Bill

Lena C. Taylor

Hairstyles come and go, but in all its forms, braids have withstood the test of time. Traced back to 3500 B.C. and the continent of Africa, more than 5000 years later, it’s time to tell some hard truths about this storied cultural hair tradition. At least, that’s the way I see it.

In a recent session of the Wisconsin State Senate, Assembly Bill 121 forced some tough questions about culture vs. business. Proving that there is diversity even within groups, African American legislators came down on different sides of the bill. AB 121 was said to be about practicing hair braiding without a license. However, when we see African hair braiding shops around the city, many people just assumed that there were some licensing requirements in place.

Currently, Wisconsin doesn’t require a license to braid hair. In fact, the ability to be a licensed hair braider varies greatly across the country. One state may require 1600 hours of training and another may require nothing.

AB 121 highlighted broader issues and revealed an agenda that really had nothing to do with Black hair or Black people. In actuality, AB 121 is a thinly veiled attempt at further deregulation by state and national Republican legislators. While supporters symbolically wrapped this bill up in Kente Cloth and harkened drums of our ancestors, it was clear to me that this bill was about the GOP’s obsession with deregulation.

They simply have used Black faces, immigrants and the promise of the American dream of entrepreneurship to mask the real agenda. Since when have Republicans been in a hurry to help Black people, African immigrants or any immigrants of color? I haven’t forgotten children in cages, mass deportation, Dreamers and ICE patrols seeking to put immigrants out of the country. Now we are supposed to believe, this bill and the many Republicans backing it all over the nation, is about helping immigrants? Please!

Republicans have been willing to trample on the rights of consumers to move deregulation of American businesses for years. Nationally, they have introduced deregulation bills that would delay product-safety rules and endanger consumers. They’ve pushed to deregulate everything from the airlines to the financial services industry. Remember the home foreclosure crisis and banks that were too big to fail? No business should be too big to fail or without some basic guidelines.

Hair braiding, in a business setting, should have some regulation or requirements. It is believed to be a multi-million-dollar industry. As it stands, these businesses can simply rent a commercial space, hang out a shingle, and start braiding hair. No one knows exactly how many of these businesses exist or what their health and sanitary practices are because they are not required to be licensed. The state doesn’t properly collect taxes on the revenues generated, even though services can average $200 – $350 per client. This doesn’t seem fair to the many barber and beauty shop owners, who jump through hoops to maintain a business.

And it’s not fair to unsuspecting customers, who expect that the state has done their due diligence in allowing these businesses to operate. We have a responsibility to both business owners and consumers.

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