It used to be pretty easy to tell which brands didn’t really care about catering to darker skin tones; all you had to do was clock whichever brand’s foundation shades only went as deep as the colour of my palm (which, for the record, was most of them). But in the current post-Fenty era, diversity is the train everyone wants to ride, and figuring out if a brand *actually* practices the inclusive ideologies they declare they believe in on social media has become slightly more nuanced. The models and bloggers these brands feature in their campaigns, the accessibility in buying darker shades, and even the brand’s choice in naming each product, are all factors that come into play when determining whether or not said brand is actually as inclusive as they’d like consumers to believe.
With the May 25 killing George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, as well as the recents deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and Regis Korchinski-Paquet, inciting protests worldwide, many brands have responded, sharing support for Black Lives Matter. Online, several beauty brands have posted statements outlining their support of anti-racism initiatives and the ending of police brutality. Anastasia Beverly Hills committed $1 million to “the fight against systemic racism,” starting with a $100,000 donation across Black Lives Matter, the Innocence Project, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Black Visions Collective and the Marshall Project. “We are taking the time internally to discuss new initiatives that will financially support Black owned businesses and artists in the beauty industry,” the brand stated. “We vow to use our platform and our privilege to amplify the voices of marginalized groups that deserve to be heard.”
Although this was a promising start, UOMA Beauty CEO Sharon Chuter wanted to ensure consumers weren’t just being fed what brands thought they’d want to hear.
In a June 3 Instagram video, Chuter thanked the brands who have voiced support of the BLM movement, but recognized that a heartwarming social media post or a black square is simply not enough. “At this point, to continue to play the role in the marginalization of Black people shows that a lot of these efforts may just be PR stunts.”
Chuter challenged brands to release the specific number of Black people they have in corporate roles as well as leadership roles. Black people make up 13% of the American population, yet account for just 8% of corporate roles and only 3.2% of executive/senior level management. And despite making up 3% of the Canadian population, the unemployment rate for Black Canadians is roughly 12%, while the average for non-Black people is only 5%. “You cannot say Black lives matter publicly, when you don’t show us Black lives matter within your own homes and within your organizations,” she said in her video.
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While this is a great way to prove allyship, I was skeptical. As a long-time beauty lover who has seen PR stunts time and time again, I didn’t think brands would *ever* be that transparent. But thankfully I was mistaken, as brands started pulling up, one by one. Chuter started the hashtag #PullUpOrShutUp, as well as an IG page called @pullupforchange, capturing every beauty brand that posted their stats.
Black-owned brands like Beauty Bakerie, ColouredRaine, The Lip Bar and Mented Cosmetics *effortlessly* proved their dedication to advocating for Black communities through their stats, while some larger brands seemed to struggle. Here’s the tea on a few US brands that have pulled up to this challenge:
One of the earlier brands to comment, Milk Makeup surprised me with their honesty. With only four Black-identifying employees out of 45 (for a total of 9%), they recognized the need to do better and defined the specific action they were taking. “We take full accountability for not having enough Black team members. We have begun a partnership with Scope of Work, a talent development agency for underrepresented young people that aims to establish equity in the creative industry. This is our first step and we know there is much more to be done.”
At first glance, this is an open and honest response, which was well received. Beauty blogger and Black advocate Alissa Ashley commented “Thank you for your transparency!” However a closer look at the replies brought me to Edelawit Hussein, former creative producer at Milk. She talked about her negative experience working for the company under VP of Marketing Nicole Frusci. Within a list of upsetting experiences, Hussein mentioned instances of coworkers using “African American slang, only when speaking to [her] and other black employees. Screaming “GURL, OKUUUURRR.” When she rightfully was not amused by this derogatory behaviour, her teammates went to Frusci, who confronted her in the presence of two other employees.
Milk’s original post is great, but this is a lesson in listening to multiple perspectives. Although there are a multitude of Black content creators listing their positive experiences with the brand, these evidently don’t reflect their relationship with their employees (i.e. Nicole girl, you gotta go.)
L’Oréal stated that across 35,000 permanent employees, 7% were Black. While they promised that they aimed to “endure that [they] are a truly inclusive company that represents the diversity of the consumers we serve,” I was reminded of Munroe Bergdorf, a Black model and trans activist. In 2017, she was hired for L’Oréal’s True Match campaign, but was fired days later after posting on Facebook in response to the violent white supremacy protest in Charlottesville, Virginia:
“Honestly I don’t have energy to talk about the racial violence of white people any more. Yes ALL white people. Because most of y’all don’t even realise or refuse to acknowledge that your existence, privilege and success as a race built on the backs, blood and death of people of colour. Your entire existence is built on racism.”
Later, Bergdorf elaborated on her comments, stating: “When I stated that ‘all white people are racist,’ I was addressing [the] fact that western society as a whole is a system rooted in white supremacy—designed to benefit, prioritize and protect white people before anyone of any other race. Unknowingly, white people are socialized to be racist from birth onwards. It is not something genetic. No one is born racist.”
Sound familiar? This is the exact rhetoric that is being rightfully repeated by the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020, calling out all non-Black, but especially white, people to acknowledge and use their privilege for good. At the time, L’Oréal fired Bergdorf, releasing a statement that said: “L’Oréal supports diversity and tolerance towards all people irrespective of their race, background, gender and religion. The L’Oréal Paris True Match campaign is a representation of these values and we are proud of the diversity of the ambassadors who represent this campaign. We believe that the recent comments by Munroe Bergdorf are at odds with those values, and as such we have taken the decision to end the partnership with her.”
While everyone has potential to learn and grow from their mistakes, the brand has still not publicly apologized for their treatment of Bergdorf. I’d love to see them make amends in a more tangible way.
Even before the Black Lives Matter mass movement this year, Colourpop has been called out by makeup bloggers NeonMUA and Killer_Kinggg for not featuring enough POC and Black creators on their feed. They even started the hashtag #ColourPopMeBlack to try and influence the brand to take action.
Just wanna take the time out to say thank you to @jackieaina for helping to push the #ColourpopMeBLACK movement. Changes need to be made with @ColourPopCo and it’s great to see a creator @killerkingggg & I look up to be supportive of it. pic.twitter.com/4dlr50NYGS
— #BLM EVERYDAY (@NeonMUA) May 17, 2020
With their #PullUpOrShutUp post, Colourpop admitted that Black people only make up 3% of their team, the rest of which is 80% Latinx, 7% Asian, and 7% white. They gave a pretty generic statement of knowing they need to do better and committing to doing more. However, what actually impressed me was their post finally responding to NeonMUA and Killer King.
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This is long overdue. We want to give credit where it’s due, thank you @neonmua and @killer_kinggg for starting a powerful movement, #ColourPopMeBlack – @neonmua @killer_kinggg @mua.desirea @kvisionxx_ @mayataughtyou @glitterlyss @criolas @beauty.bybleu @stephanycasa – CREATORS Our commitment to Black creators doesn’t stop on the feed. We’re partnering with Black creators, makeup artists, and influencers in our gifting, talent, and collab programs to ensure that Black voices are heard and celebrated. – PRODUCTS As a makeup brand, we have full control of the products we launch and discontinue. At the product development level, we are committed to creating collections that are inclusive and work on all skin tones – not only in complexion shade ranges, but in all product categories including palettes, eyeshadows, lipsticks, and highlighters.
A post shared by ColourPop Cosmetics (@colourpopcosmetics) on
They were not defensive or petty, actually *thanking* the two for starting “a powerful movement.” The brand acknowledged that the post was overdue, and committed publicly to working with more Black creatives to assure a more diverse feed. I am genuinely excited to see how Colourpop proves their allyship in the future.
Kylie Cosmetics—the makeup brand owned by Kylie Jenner—reported 13% Black employees and 47% BIPOC workers. (BIPOC refers to Black, Indigenous, People of Colour, acknowledging that not all POC face the same systemic racism.) While these numbers are undoubtedly positive, many on Instagram pointed out the fact that the Kardashian-Jenner clan has long profited off Black culture, having been called out for cultural appropriation and “blackfishing” pretty much on the daily for years. So these steps at the corporate level are great, but the famous fam should *also* seriously interrogate the ways they continue to appropriate Black culture.
And even on the corporate level there’s still room for improvement, with one Instagram user applauding the makeup mogul for being transparent, and asking her to continue supporting Black content creators, writing: “Thank you! Please continue to support more black content creators.”
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Kylie posted a response to George Floyd’s murder the day after it happened, acknowledging her privilege in a refreshingly honest post. “I’ll never personally experience the pain and fear that many black people around the country go through every day but i know nobody should have to live in fear and nobody deserves a death like George Floyd and too many others.” I’ve never seen a Kardashian or Jenner spell it out so clearly, and I think that should be recognized.
Glossier has already committed $1 million, with half going to Black Lives Matter, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Equal Justice Initiative, the Marsha P. Johnson Institute, and We the Protestors, and the other half being used to provide grants to Black-owned beauty companies.
Of the 205 people that filled out their survey (out of a total of 250 HQ employees), Glossier reported only 9% are Black, with none of them in leadership positions. As one can imagine, the brand’s cult following was disappointed. “This is why we need to support more WOC-owned beauty brands!” user @hijabilife commented.
TBH, as much as I love Glossier, this statistic isn’t totally surprising, as the brand has been slow to grow when it comes to diversity. It took Glossier more than three years to expand the shade range of their Skin Tint and they’ve slowly added more shades to a few of their products that actually show up on dark skin. In 2020, with the launch of their liquid shadows called Skywash, they developed a really unique “Compare Shades” feature, which allowed users to see the product on different skin tones. While I think Glossier is miles ahead of where they first started, they’ve still got a ways to go.
So what can we take away?
It’s great that brands are being vocal in the fight for Black lives. Bigger brands holding themselves accountable is a great example for brands even outside of the beauty industry. But we also have to remember that at the end of the day, actions are stronger than words. It is important to listen and validate the experiences of Black customers, employees, and models. A quick look in the comments will reveal more opinions, and maybe check Twitter in case the brand is, *sighs and looks into distance*, deleting comments. It’s especially vital at a time like this that we are supporting the brands we believe in, and turning away from the ones we do not. As Chuter put it, “Tell your brands to pull up for real this time, or shut up.”
Words to live by.