Learn How to Cut Black Hair or No Job for You, Louisiana Tells New Stylists

The state’s board of cosmetology passed a resolution that requires all aspiring stylists to learn how to cut Black hair—or they won't get licensed.

Nov 5 2021, 1:32pm

Starting next year, aspiring hairdressers will need to prove they can cut textured hair—hair typically belonging to Black and brown people—if they want to work in Louisiana, where a third of the population is Black.

Louisiana’s Board of Cosmetology passed a resolution Monday that requires all licensing exams to include a section on cutting textured hair. 

Any aspiring hairdresser who fails the section will not earn a license as of next June, said board chairman Edwin Neill. 

“We have to give the schools time to make sure they get the students ready. But starting in June, everyone on the practical examination will have to show competency with being able to cut textured hair,” Neill said.

Textured hair refers to hair that isn’t straight, including waves, tight curls, kinks, coils, and Afro hair. It’s long been a complaint that many, if not most, hairstylists don’t know how to cut or style it. In March, Mimi Taylor, a young Black TikToker, went viral for condemning the industry after she called 26 local salons in Washington and found that none of them could give her cornrows. 

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“I actually gave up on trying to find a stylist near me and ended up driving two hours to my grandmother's house. She did my hair for me,” Taylor told BuzzFeed. 

Photo courtesy of Gadar

Hairdresser and Aveda’s global artistic director for texture, Renee Gadar, a Black woman herself, is one of the driving forces behind Louisiana’s curriculum change.

Gadar, 37, said when she was 9 she started styling her little sister’s hair while both parents were at work. Then, in her mid-20s she earned her license and became a professional hairdresser. Along the way, she also went to business school.

“I didn't get any Black hair-textured hair education in my seven-month, full-time program,” Gadar said. “I thought that maybe my experience was unique.”

Gadar said with few options in schools, Black and other aspiring hairstylists often have to turn to “YouTube University” to learn how to do Black hair—often their own.

It wasn’t until after Gadar left her first salon job and worked privately that she began teaching two-day textured hair classes in collaboration with the Neill corporation, a major Aveda brand distributor allied with teaching salons and headed by Neill and his brother. 

“In my experience, in that two-day session, a lot of Black women would sit in there and they would cry. It was their first time feeling seen in their 12-month stay at a cosmetology school,” Gadar said. “That's when it dawned on me... No one is being taught to care for us.” 

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Black consumers in the U.S. spend nine times more than their white counterparts on beauty supplies, while in the U.K. they spend six times more on hair products. 

“I couldn't believe that Black women spend so much in an industry that ignores them and doesn't consider them,” she said.

Ultimately, learning how to care for people of color in salons is also about addressing racism and discrimination, and making everyone, from stylists of color to their racialized clientele, feel safe. 

“Anybody who is touching hair should be able to create safe spaces for Black and brown people. No one is going to know how to do that if they never learned how,” Gadar said. 

Photo courtesy of Gadar

Earlier this year, Louisiana’s senate unanimously passed the Crown Act, making it illegal for workplaces to discriminate against people for their hairstyles—a reality that disproportionately harms Black people. Neill said the act helped raise awareness that people are being discriminated against based on their hairstyle, and the board’s latest decision to mandate textured hair education takes another step towards equity. 

Louisiana is likely one of few state boards (if not the only) to introduce a measure that makes textured hair competency mandatory. The National Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology doesn’t include textured haircutting as a requirement in its general practical hairstyling exams, and most states administer its standardized tests.

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The agency’s executive director for government relations, Susan Colard, said she can’t comment on state-specific exams.

In 2019, three natural hair braiders filed a lawsuit against the Louisiana State Board of Cosmetology for enforcing stringent licensing requirements to work, including 500 hours of training and an annual fee that they say infringes on their “constitutionally guaranteed right to earn an honest living.” The board maintains that the licence regulations protect safety and sanitation. A similar battle played out in Texas, where hair braiders won the right to deregulate the braiding industry in 2015.

For now, Louisiana’s practical test for stylists will include a textured haircutting section, but not a section on textured hairstyling. Neill and Gadar said that’s next.

“It’s been wrong for so long that there’s a lot of catching up to do to even get to an equitable place,” Gadar said. 

Follow Anya Zoledziowski on Twitter.

Tagged:

RACISM, Race, Beauty Industry, hair, black hair, Lousiana, black haircare industry, haircare, worldnews

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