One Year Into Pull Up For Change, Has The Beauty Industry Really Progressed?
Last June, the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Derek Chauvin, with three other Minneapolis police officers charged with aiding and abetting, shook America to its core. As protests formed and Black people everywhere grieved, the entire country was forced to open its eyes and ears to a common refrain that was being heard but not absorbed: Black lives matter.
As expected, the weak responses and lack of accountability from major brands and corporations sent their crisis managers flying, wondering what infographics needed to be designed and which organizations they could make a tax-deductible donation to so people would stop harassing their social-media managers and calling them racist in the comments. Many companies thought that was enough. All Sharon Chuter had was two middle fingers in response.
“I was really focused on the protest, only to come home every day to see brands do what they do best, releasing statements, making donations,” Chuter told me over the phone. “The last trigger for me was the Instagram pages that popped up, where it was actually people [chronicling] how much brands donated. ‘Oh, Fashion Nova donated one million, so they're good. This one donated two million, so they're good now.’ [A writer] reposted one of these things, and I commented on her post saying, ‘Here's what I think to the brands’: It was two middle fingers. I was like, ‘Here's what I think about these donations. How can you donate when you are part of the problem?’ That post was what made me snap.”
Chuter is the founder and CEO of groundbreaking beauty brand UOMA Beauty, which made headlines in 2019 with a 51-shade foundation range that accounted for skin type in addition to tone. In 2020, she won Refinery29’s Beauty Innovator of the Year award for her action-driven approach to representation in the beauty space. Chuter is also the founder of Pull Up For Change, a grassroots social-media campaign demanding that beauty brands disclose the number of Black employees working for them at the corporate level — crucial when you take into account that only 8% of people employed in white-collar careers are Black. The goal of #pullupforchange is to challenge brands to do more than make a donation and post a black square on Instagram by forcing them to examine their role in contributing to racial inequality and injustice.
“At that time, everybody was focused on donation as the benchmark as to what's a great company and what's not,” Chuter said. “That was really what triggered my frustration to the highest level to go, ‘Well, consumers, you're looking at this all wrong. Who gives a shit that they donated, right? You don't fucking kill me and then pay for my funeral.’”
After the middle fingers heard ‘round the world, Chuter had tunnel vision: It was time to hit those companies where it hurt. No one likes having people digging around in their business, but she had a shovel and was prepared to go deep. "I was so incensed at that point that I didn't care what I lost. I was just like, ‘This is bullshit that we're here focusing on corporate donations instead of things that are going to create long-term solutions,’” she said. “These guys are the root cause of a lot of these problems. If George Floyd was the CEO of Goldman Sachs, he wouldn't have been killed the way he was killed.”
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