The phrase "strength in numbers" has never rung more true than right now, as people in all 50 US states and across the globe gather amidst a pandemic to fight the country's oldest plague: racism. Recent tragedies, including the violent murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and countless other Black people, many of whose names we do not know, have created a state of emergency — and, with it, an urgent call for change.
The need for a drastic overhaul of our values transcends the broken, inherently anti-Black justice system: The uprising has led to discussion and dissection of just how embedded racism and anti-Blackness is in every facet of our lives, from schools and stores to workplaces. Earlier this week, billion-dollar brands and corporations took to Instagram to share black squares as part of #BlackOutTuesday, which ended in criticism of the trend's counterproductivity; many of them also announced donations to organisations to stand in solidarity with the Black community. Combined, these gestures lead to one overarching question: Is it enough?
Sharon Chuter, founder, CEO, and creative director of Uoma Beauty, wants to hold brands across categories accountable for asking themselves that very question with her new project, Pull Up For Change. It's one thing for companies to throw money at the movement, but real advances are only made when structural inclusivity and opportunities for Black people are addressed. "The Black Lives Matter movement started in 2013, and we've lost so many lives since then," Chuter says. "This isn't just a police problem. It's a systematic problem that large corporations and businesses are complicit in because of the lack of Black people given opportunities and leadership."
The organisation's leading challenge, #PullUpOrShutUp, is asking brands to share the number of Black employees currently employed at the corporate and executive level, and urging customers to stop shopping until the information is shared. "This isn't to shame brands — it's to have an honest conversation and think of ways we can do better," Chuter explains. "One of the main causes of the issues is that Black people are not afforded the same opportunities, and we aren't hired in the first place."
"This isn't just a police problem. It's a systematic problem that large corporations and businesses are complicit in."
Sharon chuter, founder & Ceo of uoma beauty and pull up for change
This disparity is glaring in the beauty industry, which reaps the benefits of Black women but fails to cater to them. "This issue is why I created Uoma," Chuter says. "Black people consistently create the culture but never profit from it." Last year, we honoured Chuter and her brand with the Refinery29 Beauty Innovator of the Year award for her action-driven approach to representation in the beauty space, and her current work speaks volumes to her mission. "It's rampant in the beauty industry. They toss you crappy products in crappy retailers without acknowledging their complacency in this matter," she says. "Now is not the time to stay quiet or comfortable."
Chuter hopes that brands look beyond donations and Instagram activism and work to create real solutions for diversity issues that are detrimental to Black lives. "A donation is like hush money if you aren't putting in the work behind it to address your shortcomings and do better," she says. "Do the work to change things from the inside out — and pull up or shut up."