Isis Brantley On African Hair Braiding And Her 20-Year Court Battle | KERA News

Isis Brantley On African Hair Braiding And Her 20-Year Court Battle

Jan 22, 2015

A Dallas businesswoman achieved a victory against the state of Texas this month when a federal court declared that rules that regulate businesses that teach African hair braiding are unconstitutional. 

Isis Brantley is the owner of the Institute of Ancestral Braiding in Oak Cliff and she talks about her 20-year battle to teach a centuries-old tradition.  

Interview Highlights: Isis Brantley ...

... on the nature of African hair braiding:

"African braiding is steeped in culture. So you're talking about people who are interested in having their hair conditioned, those with tightly textured hair, those with curls and coils and kinks. So when you talk about braiding in the schools -- which are the traditional schools like cosmetology and barbering schools -- it's totally different from what someone does -- that's a priest or a matriarch of natural hair -- that studies this art."

... on being arrested in her salon in 1997 for braiding without a cosmetology license:

"I thought it was crazy. I couldn't believe it when seven cops came into my salon and said 'you are under arrest for braiding hair.' I thought it was ridiculous. I even laughed a little and then she pulled her badge out and said 'Isis, you are under an arrest and please cooperate with us.'"

... on battling regulations to teach African braiding:

[In 2007, Brantley was allowed to operate her salon and got a hair-braiding license, but regulations prevented her from teaching braiding.]

"They knew back in '97 that I was a school, so they didn't want me to operate the school. Well, after '97, I say a good five years passed -- I didn't hear anything from the state of Texas. And then finally in 2005, they said 'we dropped the case.' And then in 2007 they grandfathered me, but they grandfathered me to be a braider -- to go ahead and have my business legally and operate as a braid artist, but they didn't address me being a teacher, which I had been since 1983."

... on why the Texas rules didn't work for African braiding:

"Because I'm not a barber, I'm not a cosmetologist. I don't do chemicals, I don't have chemicals, I don't shave faces, I don't cut hair. What I do is indigenous to me as an African woman and I pass this art down to my children and I want to pass it down to the next generation and this has nothing to do with them teaching me how to alter the state of my nappy hair or my natural hair or my curly hair. It has everything to do with my identity as an African braider."

... on her struggle possibly loosening regulations across the state:

"It does feel good. Because I never went into this fight for myself. I always thought about the industry as a whole."

Isis Brantley is the owner of the Institute of Ancestral Braiding in Oak Cliff.

Learn more

In 2013, Brantley spoke with NPR's Michel Martin about the hair-braiding controversy. Listen to that conversation here.