The Curious Case of Taalib-Din Abdul Uqdah v. District of Columbia
This week I decided to examine a case dealing with overregulation of the hair braiding industry in Washington, DC. The plaintiff, Taalib-Din Abdul Uqdah, and his wife Pamela Ferrell, owned and operated Cornrows & Co. This business was dedicated to braiding hair and creating hairstyles that traced back to African roots (no pun intended).
The business comprised of workers who were without cosmetology licenses and also of low economic class.
However, the workers were able to receive training to do complex African hairstyles without the financial burden of going to a cosmetology school that they may not have been able to afford—the Uqdah's trained their employees themselves. As Institute for Justice’s website states, this business was an excellent example of “bootstrap capitalism.” That is, a person or group of persons collaborated and started a business and within years it was successful. In fact, it was so successful that it generated over $10,000 in taxes.
However, the Board of Cosmetology of the District of Columbia sought to impose an antiquated 1938 regulation on the business, which would have stifled business, if not closed it completely.
The regulations imposed are also the antithesis of African hairstyling, as the workers would have had to take an examination on hairstyles that are irrelevant to the job and have been out of style for more than 40 years.
The regulations would have also have proved to be expensive, as they would also have to attend a certified cosmetology school for thousands of dollars. Even if all the employees could afford to attend the schools, the time the business didn’t have the employees working could have effectively shut it down due to the lack of revenues—or at least taken a hit in the wallet.
In December of 1992, the DC City Council repealed the cosmetology regulations.
This case was an example of regulations that has the potential to inadvertently (or maybe advertently) destroy employment, destroy low-cost training opportunities for low-skilled individuals, and kill business. The requirement to have the hair salon licensed, the training program licensed, and its braiders licensed would have proven costly as well as wasteful. In fact, they would have been required to take a practical (hands-on) and written test on things such as chemicals (which aren’t even used by African hairstylists).
In a subtle way it reminds me of the United States, et al. v City of New York case where potential firefighters had to take an examination that tested skills unrelated to the profession. These skills were lacked by many of the Latino and Black applicants, but not by the whites, thus the non-whites' failure to pass the test perpetuated the racial imbalances in the profession. In a similar way, the majority of the hairstyling profession would be comprised of stylists who only knew about styles acknowledged at one time in history, who prefer one type of look, worn mostly by one racial group, rather than those with more modern hair styling techniques, if the regulators got their way.
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