Minnesota’s record ethnic diversity at the State Capitol — including African American, Somali American, Asian American and Hispanic or Latino representation — has given legislators of color a boost when it comes to creating new perspectives on policy change.
Local leaders like Rep. Rena Moran (DFL-Minneapolis) have hit the ground running, with 19 people of color in the House, in ensuring issues related to people of color are not only heard, but are addressed via legislation.
“When we are able to bring in our expertise and our experience to these conversations,” said Moran, “we begin to see policies that create different practices than what we have seen in the past.”
In February, she teamed with Sen. Jeff Hayden to introduce the African American Family Preservation and Child Welfare Disproportionality Act (HF142) to help keep Black youth from being displaced from their homes due to racial bias.
“The number of our [African American] kids who have been removed from their homes and from their parents and not being placed with relatives and put in homes with strangers is alarming,” Moran told the MSR. “They are away from their communities, their schools, sometimes even their siblings. This has a huge impact on not only our community, but it has an impact on how our children are developing.
“They are not feeling connected to their community or loved,” continued Moran, “so they go into these new homes and it shows up in the school. And now they are being diagnosed or placed in special ed, getting medication, or are being funneled into the youth detention centers. We’re not recognizing their trauma. We’re not recognizing and valuing the family preservation — the foundation for us as Black people.”
She authored another bill (HF554) that was approved in April to help parents directly seek to re-establish parental rights and reduce barriers for parents who lost rights for non-egregious harm. “Kids should not be lingering in foster care, and the State should never be in the business of trying to raise our kids.”
Black hair economics
Now she’s taking on Black hair and entrepreneurship via a bill (HF140) to repeal cosmetology registration requirements for braiders. Hair braiding, an art that goes back thousands of years, has been a hot-button topic across the country. While most cosmetology programs don’t teach the skill, many states require a cosmetology license to legally practice it.
Those licensure requirements include upwards of 2,000 hours of education and thousands of dollars in fees to acquire. Women have been fined tens of thousands of dollars and even jailed for braiding without it. This has led to 26 states, North Dakota most recently, ending licensing requirements for hair braiders, according to the Institute for Justice.
While Minnesota has one of the more lenient requirements — 30 hours of service — Moran hopes to repeal yet another barrier for Black women to become entrepreneurs. “It’s not like Louisiana that requires 500 hours, but we want to make sure that we are not creating mandates that are getting in the way of Black women being business owners,” said Moran.
“And, we know that in the state of Minnesota, we have less women who are business owners. We also know Black women are making somewhere near 65 cents to the dollar, as compared to a White woman making 80 cents to the dollar of their White male counterpart, who is making the whole dollar.”
Braiding, Moran said, should be “a job creator for Black women.” Instead, “Having a policy in place that states you have to have so many hours of specialty licensing for hair braiders is just a job killer.”
“There is an extreme amount of fees,” she said, to obtain licensure. “It really is a barrier to women opening up a business. The more licensing, the more training hours that a state demands, the fewer braiders that we have.”
When asked about sanitation and health risks associated with hair styling, Moran said education shouldn’t be a prohibitive factor for licensure, noting it should be common practice. “It’s just a healthy thing to do to wash a comb before you use it on another person’s head or take note of a scalp issue. But that’s more of an educational piece that needs to take place,” she added. “There are ways to work with the [MN] Department of Health to get those basic type of safety criteria in place.”
She added that the biggest opposition, which she said has been minimal, has been centered on hair loss. “I have heard some women are losing the hair at the ends of their hair — around their edges. We know that does happen based on just the braiding, the texture of your hair, and how tight the braids can be,” Moran said. “But, is that something that needs to be regulated? I would say no.”
Amplifying POCI voices
Conversations around hair may not seem crucial to mainstream populations that aren’t faced with everyday policing of their hair. The racial disparities are prevalent — from workplace policies against hairstyles to school mandates that get both students and parents locked out of school doors.
Moran is enthused to not only talk about this and other issues related to people of color, but also to have support from within to push through such legislation.
“It’s really important for me and the People of Color Indigenous (POCI) Caucus here to bring the voices of our community into this body so that we are creating and educating our colleagues through a race-conscious lens around social, racial, economic and environmental justice issues,” said Moran.
“We don’t need [non-POCI] to talk to us about our community. We have enough [POCI] here that we can do that, too, and have you just support and help lead on it. So this is one of those bills. This is just one of many that we are trying to move through this body.”
She credits the community for helping get her AAFP act into committee hearings. “The community has just shown up in really good numbers, and they have lent their voices and their stories that have been so impactful. In the House of Representatives, they gave 134 legislators a new narrative to look at when they look at our families and what is happening and how disproportionately our kids are being really put down a more punitive track while White families are getting the support that they need to get their kids connected to their families.”
Moran said she looks forward to similar support via email and letters when the braid repeal comes forth. The bill, which has received bipartisan support, is currently waiting to go into conference committee. She explained that the bill was part of a larger bill that was vetoed last year, but she is confident it will pass this session.
“It’s so important that we are leading the narrative about what is important for our community. We want to be on the front end. We want to be about planning and navigating [our stories].”