by Rep. Shamed Dogan and Dave Roland
We are two Missouri men for whom shaving our heads is preferable to the alternatives at this point in our lives. But last week a federal judge in Missouri released a decision affecting primarily African-American women and their hairstyles which has our metaphorical hair on fire. This injustice should get you fired up as well.
African-style hairbraiding is a distinctive cultural practice that has been handed down through families for centuries. These braiders don’t typically use blades or harsh chemicals, but rather they take advantage of the unique texture of Black hair to craft beautiful styles. Due to this emphasis on natural methods, African-style hairbraiding is also safe, posing virtually no hazard to the health or safety of those providing or receiving these services. Under current Missouri law, it is perfectly legal for any person in the state to have someone else braid their hair—but only as long as the braider receives nothing valuable for their efforts.
If a braider in Missouri wants to be paid for their work, however, they have to spend thousands of dollars and thousands of hours earning a cosmetology license. But here’s the thing… Missouri’s cosmetology schools don’t teach or test African-style hairbraiding! Several other courts had ruled that because cosmetology training is irrelevant to the practice of African-style hairbraiding, it is unconstitutional to require braiders to train as cosmetologists before they can apply their braiding skills to earn a living. Unfortunately, the judge in the recent case denied Missouri braiders’ economic freedom, determining instead that federal courts must show “great deference… to government regulations.”
Missouri’s cosmetology licensing scheme rigs the system against predominantly lower and middle-class minority women entrepreneurs, depriving them of their chance to achieve their American Dream. It is outrageous and unfair to require 1,500 hours of training for hairbraiders, which is far more than the training required to become a real estate agent (72 hours), an emergency medical technician (100 hours), and a police officer (600 hours) combined.
Hairbraiding is just one example of ways in which government squashes economic opportunity through over-regulation. In 1981, there were only 80 occupations that required licenses at the state level throughout the US. By 2008, that number had exploded to over 1,100 occupations, representing more than one-quarter of the US workforce. Across the political spectrum, from the Koch brothers on one side to the Obama administration on the other, there is a growing consensus that we can create more jobs, reduce economic inequality, and improve overall economic growth simply by reducing occupational licensing. Economic freedom will clear a path to prosperity for service providers and customers alike; it is truly a win-win situation.
The right to earn an honest living is an essential part of our nation’s promise of opportunity. Missouri’s current laws fail to protect that right for hairbraiders and need to be either struck down in court or changed. We pledge to keep fighting in the courtroom and in the Legislature to make the American Dream available to as many Missourians as possible regardless of their race, sex, or socioeconomic status. Justice demands no less.
Shamed Dogan is the State Representative for Missouri’s 98th District in St. Louis County. David Roland is the Director of Litigation for the Freedom Center of Missouri and a former attorney for the Institute for Justice; he has represented the interests of hairbraiders in Missouri and several other states.