From participating in #BlackOutTuesday to donating millions of dollars to the Black Lives Matter movement, beauty brands are taking a stand to support Black people in America in ways we’ve never seen before. But even so, Black folks are seeing the floods of black squares on Instagram and aesthetically pleasing designed quotes about equality, and are wondering whether these brands are really committed to preserving Black life or if they're just hopping onto the country’s biggest trend.
On social media, a discussion around performative allyship is brewing as people call out brands for spending years not practicing what they’re publicly preaching.
The clear consensus from the myriad tweets is that brands saying they stand with Black Lives Matter need to come with the receipts. If they really do support Black folks, how many people of color do they have across their organizations? And more importantly, are they only employed in lower positions or are there Black people in leadership roles?
One one loudest voices holding brands accountable is Sharon Chuter, beauty industry veteran and founder and CEO of Uoma Beauty, an Afropolitan cosmetics line that launched with 51 shades of foundation right out of the gate. “I left the corporate world three years ago to set up my own brand because they weren’t making products for us and they weren't employing us,” the Nigerian-born exec tells Glamour. Since launching Uoma, Chuter has made it a point to ensure her employees are as diverse as the products creates. Now she’s calling on other brands to reveal whether or not they’re doing the same.
On Wednesday, June 3, Chuter created Pull Up for Change, a movement on social media that's demanding all beauty brands that publicly supported Black Lives Matter this week to share detailed breakdowns of the number of Black individuals they employ at the executive, corporate, and leadership levels. Chuter gave a 72-hour deadline for the brands in question, many of which have pledged large cash donations to pro-Black life organizations, to share their figures. To incentivize brands to reveal this potentially damaging information, Chuter called upon her followers to press pause on making purchases from beauty brands until the requested figures were released.
“Over the last few days we’ve seen something that’s never happened before with brands and corporations publicly showing support for the Black Lives Matter movement including making huge donations…and for this we thank you," she said in a video announcing the 72-hour #PullUpOrShutUp challenge. "However, to at this point still be absolving yourself from the role that you have played and continue to play in the marginalization and oppression of Black people shows that a lot of these efforts may just be PR stunts.”
While it’s a step forward for brands to offer signs of solidarity, solidarity does not erase history, and it doesn’t conceal the fact that only 3.2% of Black professionals are in executive or senior management roles. “We in the beauty industry know we’ve had a problem for a very long time. We’ve been talking about this forever,” Chuter tells Glamour. “Right now, this is the part that I can do. Let me take on the corporate side of things because I have the credibility to speak in this space. This is me playing my part.”
For years, we’ve seen shoppers, influencers, and celebrities call for much-needed racial equality in the beauty industry. Equal representation in marketing, more inclusive product offerings, more diverse celebrity spokespeople—these aren’t unreasonable requests. But the beauty industry has offered only incremental change to people of color while continuing to profit off of us. In recent years, it seems as though the few brands willing to meet the needs of Black people are the brands run by Black people: Think lines like Rihanna's Fenty Beauty and Chuter’s Uoma. The solution to this, Chuter says, is equal representation within beauty brands so that Black folks can effect change from within.
“For 14 years I was traumatized [as a professional in the beauty industry]," she says. "My name was Sharon Jemedafe, but I had to change it because I couldn’t get jobs with it. I was told by a boss that I couldn’t wear braids because it was ‘ghetto’ and 'career-limiting.’ They said, ‘I feel like you have potential, but you have to drop that because it’s not going to help you.’ I had to change my accent. I’m Nigerian and I cannot even talk like a Nigerian anymore because it’s been so long. I had to fully assimilate so when I had an interview on the phone, they didn’t realize I was ethnic because my name was Anglo-Saxon and my accent didn’t not reflect anything ethnic.”
Now, as CEO of her own company, Chuter is trying to ensure her employees don't have the same experience she did. The diversity breakdown at the leadership level of Uoma Beauty is 50% Black, 75% people of color, and only 15% caucasian. While Chuter doesn’t expect all beauty brands to match her own in terms of diversity, she's looking for other brands to make a commitment beyond a one-time cash donation. She points to Milk Makeup as an example of a brand that took this week to reflect and say, This is our diversity breakdown, we need to do better.
https://www.instagram.com/p/CBB8F6EHTHT” data-instgrm-version=”8″>By the end of the day today, the 72 hours of #PullUpOrShutUp challenge will expire. So far, only a handful brands have responded to the call to #PullUpOrShutUp—e.l.f. Cosmetics, Milk, and Crayon Case Cosmetics were among the first—despite heavy hitter beauty influencers Jackie Aina and Patrick Starrr joining Chuter’s call to arms. But as the deadline draws nearer, the list of participants keeps growing longer.
https://www.instagram.com/p/CBBwvhphDYu” data-instgrm-version=”8″>“We’re being nice now,” says Chuter. “After 72 hours, we’re moving to a full-on assault. We’ll target a new brand every week and our entire following is going to descend into their comments section. They aren’t going to be selling anything because we’re going to be commenting non-stop, 24/7. We’re going to choose a brand until that brand responds. We’re not going anywhere.”
Amber Rambharose is beauty writer in Philadelphia. Follow her on Instagram @amberdeexterous.
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