Senegalese woman fined $16,000 for braiding hairs in US

A Senegalese hairdresser has been forced to pay over $16,000 in fines after falling foul of a Tennessee law which outlawed employing workers who did not have a government licence to braid hair.

Fatou Diouf has been braiding hair all her life. She works professionally as a licenced natural hair stylist in the US’ State of Tennessee.

For her, hair braiding is a vocation that has brought her joy and remittances to support her family back home in Senegal. It’s also a means to support herself and her two children.

She said, “I never did any other job but hair braiding my whole life,” she said. “I cannot recall a time when I did not.”

But in recent times the job has become a burden. Fatou, who recently divorced her husband has been forced to pay $16,000 in fines to the Tennessee Board of Cosmetology and Barber Examiners.

Though braiders are free to work without a license in almost half the US, in Tennessee it’s not so since only licenced “natural hair stylists” may earn a living by braiding, twisting, wrapping, weaving, extending or locking hair.

She now pays $830 per month to the Tennessee government under a payment plan for her most recent violations. She says the payment is very stressful.

Based on her experiences, Diouf has become one of the most outspoken voices for reform. Together with the Institute for Justice and the Beacon Center, Fatou has testified in favour of a bill that would eliminate the state’s licence for natural hair stylists—and the Board’s basis for fining braiders.

“We can create more employment if this bill passes,” she said.

Diouf is not alone in the predicament. The Institute for Justice has identified nearly $100,000 in fines levied against dozens of braiders and more than 30 different natural hair shops and salons since 2009. All of those violations were for unlicensed braiding; none were triggered by any health or sanitation violation.
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