The Corner

Law & the Courts

Why One Texas Hair Braider Became a Workers’-Rights Activist

The White House workers’ summit today is focusing on declining union membership. It ignores a much larger problem facing many workers: they need a government permission slip to work. Without one they can go to jail. This happened to Isis Brantley, a Dallas hair braider.

In 1997 police arrested her for operating without a cosmetology license. Undercover officers came into Brantley’s salon and “carted [her] off to jail like a common criminal.” The mother of five went to jail for not having a license that required over 1,500 hours of training (including four exams)– none of which covered African hair braiding.

The arrest left Brantley homeless, jobless, and a passionate advocate for the rights to practice her craft.

Ten years later, the Texas legislature “fixed” the problem by creating a 35-hour hair-braiding license inserted under the barbering statute. Although free to braid hair, Brantley was still bound by burdensome barbering laws. She wanted to teach other women how to braid hair. To do that, she had to become a licensed barber instructor and create a barber college — again filled with requirements that had nothing to do with hair braiding.

Why should the government stop people who are willing and able to work? Why force them into poverty? Thankfully, Brantley’s story had a happy ending. On June 10, 2015, with the help of the Institute for Justice, Texas governor Greg Abbott signed a bill fully deregulating the practice of natural hair-braiding in the state.

Brantley’s hard work and advocacy paid off. However, Brantley’s situation is not an isolated one. Nearly one-third of all jobs in the economy require some sort of license.

Many of these licenses are equally unnecessary: florists, interior designers, and barbers. Too many Americans like Brantley cannot get ahead because they lack pointless government permission slips. This is a much greater issue for most workers than organized labor’s organizing difficulties. 

Most Popular

Film & TV

Trolling America in HBO’s Euphoria

Of HBO’s new series Euphoria, its creator and writer Sam Levinson says, “There are going to be parents who are going to be totally f***ing freaked out.” There is no “but” coming. The freak-out is the point, at least if the premiere episode is to be believed. HBO needs a zeitgeist-capturing successor to ... Read More
Law & the Courts

Kamala Harris’s Dreadful DA Record

In 2005, the sharp-elbowed, ambitious district attorney of San Francisco had the opportunity to correct an all-too-common prosecutorial violation of duty that the leading expert on prosecutorial misconduct found “accounts for more miscarriages of justice than any other type of malpractice.” Rather than seize ... Read More
Film & TV

In Toy Story 4, the Franchise Shows Its Age

For a film franchise, 24 years is middle-aged, bordering on elderly. Nearly a quarter-century after the first Toy Story, the fourth installment, which hits theaters later this week, feels a bit tired. If earlier films in the franchise were about loss and abandonment and saying goodbye to childhood, this one is ... Read More
Politics & Policy

FBI Lovebirds Is D.C. Satire at Its Best

What do you get when you take Dean Cain, an actor famous for playing Superman on TV, and Kristy Swanson, the actress who was the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and give them the chance to play a couple of adulterous, wildly partisan FBI agents working at the highest levels of the Mueller Russiagate ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Case against Reparations

Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published on May 24, 2014. Ta-Nehisi Coates has done a public service with his essay “The Case for Reparations,” and the service he has done is to show that there is not much of a case for reparations. Mr. Coates’s beautifully written monograph is intelligent ... Read More