Using regulation and laws to hold up privilege and oppression

So, I noticed recently the story going around about Tennessee fining residents for braiding hair (while somehow also being unable to muster the legislative will to denounce Nazis and white supremacists as terrorists) and it really bothers me on multiple levels.

First, there is the ongoing problem of white people policing Black people’s hair. Being told that things like dreadlocks or big afros (or even short, tight ones on women) or braids and the like are “unprofessional.” Ignoring the fact that Black people’s hair isn’t like white people’s hair and that those are natural and appropriate and healthy ways to work with the different texture and growth patterns. Instead, Black people are pushed to use harsh chemicals to straighten their hair to fit the Eurocentric white style of hair. Because, of course, exposure to toxic chemicals that gradually kill you hair follicles makes much more sense than broadening one’s view of what hair styles are appropriate for people of different ethnic, racial and cultural backgrounds.

Look, I understand requiring barbers, cosmetologists, beauticians and such needing special education and licensing. Dealing with sharp objects like razors next to vulnerable skin and dealing with coloring, perming and straightening chemicals should necessitate some kind of formalized training and oversight. But braiding? Really? That’s the place Tennessee wants to flex its muscles?

And that brings me to my second point and why I’ve filed this post under “Current Events” rather than “Racial and Cultural” here at BGIM Media. Because while racism and white privilege and white supremacy are part and parcel of what I’ve been talking about so far, it’s part of a much bigger issue of regulating people and using laws to strike out at those who are not white, not male and/or not straight.

For example, it wasn’t that long ago that the news went viral of Texas administrators at a university enforcing a dress code aimed solely at female students. Grown women being told what not to wear because they might “distract” men. Or “entice” them to lewd thoughts. It goes back to the victim-blaming of rape victims for getting raped because they dressed too provocatively. It goes back to denying that we have a rape culture in this country and that we excuse men—white men, that is—for “not being able to control themselves.” Because heaven forbid we should focus on men’s accountability and choices and the fact that they actually can control themselves—they just don’t feel a need to because policies, regulations and laws favor men. Particularly white and straight ones.

And what about the queer, gay, lesbian, transgender and other non-cis and/or non-straight people? So often denied the ability to adopt over the generations because they are deemed immoral and assumed to be more likely to sexually abuse children. Laws passed to prevent trans people from using the restrooms of their choice to protect cis-gendered people, despite a total lack of any evidence that a special risk is posed to cis-gendered people by transgendered people in public bathrooms.

Yes, men have taken some hits over recent years. More likely to hear phrases like “all men are trash” and things like that. But still, who controls the vast majority of power (political or supervisory), money and legislation in this country? Men. And most of them white and straight (or at least publicly stressing their straightness while sometimes dallying in gay sex while discriminating against non-straight people). I don’t deny that women can put expectations on men that are unfair; it’s true. There are double standards. But women aren’t controlling the regulation and laws that strike non-white, non-straight, non-cis, non-male people. They are still the overwhelming minority in executive and legislative positions.

How many regulations do we have aimed at white, straight, cis men? Who is telling them that they are distracting or enticing people with their clothes? Who is telling them through policies that they are deviant and untrustworthy and incapable of making adult decisions on their own? Who is holding them back?

No one. And if this Tennessee braiding news, on top of University of Texas clothing policing and LGBTQ-unfriendly bathroom laws and adoption policies and all the rest is one more thing to remind people that white privilege and male privilege still rule in this country (and most others), well, I’m here to remind you.

Current events tell us that the current event…the ongoing event…the overwhelming event that plays out day after day after day…is toxic masculinity and white supremacy and all of their cousins and children.

Do better. Stop using laws, regulations and institutional rules to prop up the patriarchy and white supremacy. If you’re really better than the women, the people of color, the LGBTQ community and other marginalized groups, prove it on a level playing field.


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4 thoughts on “Using regulation and laws to hold up privilege and oppression

  1. If true the issue here —-appears to be beauty shops, etc. that have not passed whatever rules or regulations deemed necessary to operate such shops. Would not hair braiding come under the same scrutiny imposed on other procedures and needed to assure that consumer safety standards are being followed ?

  2. …actually when the article compared Mississippi to Tennessee this appears to be another case of a rural, southern state using what ever revenue resources it can figure out to pay for its state troopers, etc. I suppose this is needed now since it is getting harder for Tennessee to depend on “Moon Shining” operations for such revenue. Clearly, the state’s legal force should have gotten behind this injustice – past tensed !

  3. This does seem a bit extreme. I use to work at a hair salon ( not as a stylist), and women and girls would come in to get their hair braided in all sorts of special ways for weddings, proms, and the like. There weren’t any special licensing needed for it, other than just simple cosmetologist license.
    What you write about remind me of the laws governing Reiki. I use to be a phlebotomist ( the people who take your blood test)- sticking needles in people, with just a certificate. But to practice Reiki in Florida, you had to have a license to touch if people were going to pay you. So I became a massage therapist- and that wasn’t cheap! Reiki is non-invasive, phlebotomy you can do actual harm.
    I never knew what process black women went through until I saw part of the documentary that Chris Rock did on what black women do for their hair. I was shocked! I can remember decades of perming my own hair, and the damage it did. this was nothing compared to what it seemed these women- and young girls! – went through.
    I think it’s time women learned to love the hair they have. Once I gave in, and accepted my baby fine-bone straight thin hair as what it was, I became a lot happier.

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