Hair Trigger


Friends of Taalib-Din Uqdah, a well-known advocate of African-style hair braiding, are familiar with his somewhat cryptic anti-regulation mantra. "How can you license what you do not teach?" Uqdah says. "How can you teach what you do not know?" In an August decision that struck down California's regulation of such hair braiding, U.S. District Judge Rudi Brewster repeated Uqdah's take on the matter and added, "The court agrees."

The ruling grew out of a case brought by JoAnne Cornwell, a professor of Africana studies and French literature at San Diego State University, who both braids hair and trains others to do so in her San Diego home. Although African-style hair braiding requires no on-site cutting or washing, Cornwell would have to pay more than $7,000 to attend a state-approved beauty school in order to receive the proper license. Says Cornwell, "We can function perfectly well without these unnecessary regulations."

In a 26-page decision, Brewster, a judge for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, wrote, "There are limits to what the State may require before its dictates are deemed arbitrary and irrational." Since only 110 of the required 1,600 curriculum hours at the beauty school could even be deemed "possibly relevant" to Cornwell's business, the judge ruled that forcing her to spend so much time and money was "wholly irrelevant to the achievement of the state's objectives."

That's not to say that Brewster ruled out regulating hair braiders in the future. Indeed, he warned that if hair braiders branch into too many "cosmetology-like tasks"–including "shampooing hair" with too many "cosmetology-like instruments," such as "combs"–the state would be well within its rights to send them off to beauty school.