Tragic Truths: Inside the Fight to Legalize Hair Braiding in Iowa

Here's how the state targeted Black female entrepreneurs

Braiding hair is finally legal in the state of Iowa after a law was passed earlier this month which now legally allows people to braid hair professionally. Before the law was passed, the profession was a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison.

The legalization is thanks to two African-style hair braiders and the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm, who brought a civil rights lawsuit against the state.

The reform is a part of the nationwide fight to roll back occupational licensing laws, which Forbes reported still affects one in four American workers. These archaic laws were often defended under the guise of protecting health and safety but instead were used to hinder economic opportunity for ethnic minorities and the working-class.

Before the passing of this reform, it was completely impractical to work as a braider in Iowa as working legally required 2,100 hours of training at a cosmetology school that can cost upwards of $20,000. On top of that, cosmetology schools in Iowa are not required to teach African-style or natural hair braiding techniques. 

Even the common-sense law reformation faced initial pushback after state lawmakers attempted to pass a bill that would have forced braiders to take annual education courses. Thankfully Governor Terry Branstad vetoed these provisions.

So next time you find yourself in Iowa and need to get some new braids in, don't worry, you won't be breaking the law.

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