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Louisiana will now test stylists on their ability to cut textured hair

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Hairstylists in Louisiana will soon be tested on their ability to cut textured hair. As of June, cosmetology students must pass that test to receive a license.

Ambriehl Crutchfield of WPLN reports on why that matters.

AMBRIEHL CRUTCHFIELD, BYLINE: The Louisiana Cosmetology Board wants anyone with kinky, coily or wavy hair to walk into a salon and know a hairstylist can cut their hair. This shift means hair schools will have to make sure they have textured mannequin heads for teaching and learning.

Edwin Neill is the chairman of the Louisiana Board of Cosmetology and the CEO of Aveda Arts.

EDWIN NEILL: So there's no other state that has cutting of textured hair on their state board examination.

CRUTCHFIELD: In just about every state, requirements centered on straightening hair - whether it's with chemicals or a flat iron. But growing up, Baton Rouge Aveda instructor Lauren Williams says her mother taught her the versatility of styling her hair - whether it was double-strand twists, braiding or relaxing it. This was her mother's way of instilling the value of putting her best self forward, which included appearance. In the last decade, as people have embraced their natural hair, Williams has been prepared to help her students adapt.

LAUREN WILLIAMS: If you don't know something, it's intimidating until you learn it. But once you learn it, once you get it, they're like, oh, Miss Lauren, that wasn't that bad.

CRUTCHFIELD: She says more education for her students will mean more services stylists offer. Nielsen reports that Black women are more likely to rely on salon visits. But the pandemic pushed them to be more than two times more likely to buy hair treatments than the average buyer. Yet Black hair hasn't been essential learning at large beauty schools, like Aveda Institute, until recently. The school played an integral part in pushing for Louisiana to include textured hair on the cosmetology test.

Renee Gadar is the head of Aveda's texture education. From historical figures, such as Madam C.J. Walker, to Art Dyson more recently, Black people have taught how to care for Black hair.

RENEE GADAR: It just wasn't the standard. It wasn't on anybody's state exam. We know why - because of our racist history in this country.

CRUTCHFIELD: Historically, beauty has been an important part of power. White Europeans use social and psychological tactics to make enslaved Africans feel inferior - like deeming curly and kinky textured hair as bad.

Tiffany Gill is a history professor at Rutgers University.

TIFFANY GILL: For the enslaved people, to care for one's body became sort of an act of defiance. It became a way for them to assert their humanity and their dignity.

CRUTCHFIELD: In hair schools throughout the country, stylists of color have picked up the slack of beauty schools and taught others how to do textured hair. For Louisiana teachers that are new to doing textured hair, they will be learning alongside their students.

Nashville-based hairstylist Amber Curry graduated and taught for the Aveda Arts. They now go throughout the country teaching the history of beauty discrimination and practical techniques for doing Black hair. Beyond testing, they want to know what the school and larger industry will do to show it values Black clients as people - like teaching diversity and inclusion, so stylists feel empowered to speak up when they see someone not receiving proper care or are being harmed.

AMBER CURRY: It's not going to show if you know how to value those Black bodies that you have been ignoring for however long the salon industry has been in (ph).

CRUTCHFIELD: Curry is concerned that Louisiana's policy change is a Band-Aid in the larger picture of ensuring Black clients are treated with care. Aveda Arts tells NPR its curriculum does include training for students on how to consult a diverse client base. Aveda is looking to change testing requirements in over 20 states, including Texas.

For NPR News, I'm Ambriehl Crutchfield in Nashville. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ambriehl Crutchfield
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