Unilever, one of the UK’s biggest employers, has announced it will give £170,000 to black grassroots organisations to help tackle racism.
The company, which owns Dove and Magnum, is launching the Crown Fund UK, an initiative that Unilever hopes will stop discrimination around black hairstyles and texture. Organisations working to eliminate barriers of progress for black women and girls will receive up to £20,000 each in 2021.
Dove has also developed a workshop through the Dove self-esteem project, which supports teachers in discussions about hair discrimination in schools.
Last month Unilever announced it would sign up to the Halo Code, which pledges to stop discrimination against workers with hairstyles like dreadlocks and afros.
The move follows the lead of the similarly named Crown Act in the US, a piece of legislation, passed in California last year and later in New Jersey, New York and Virginia, which prohibits discrimination based on hairstyles.
According to the Crown Fund UK, 63% of black adults have experienced hair discrimination. “Who would have thought that to just simply wear your hair as it is, a very normal everyday practice, is a defiant act?” said Prof Carol Tulloch of the University of the Arts London.
“Black hair is constantly scrutinised and politicised where our non-black counterparts do not face such opposition [and] contention,” said Wofai JE, executive director of the dance theatre company Initiative.dkf, who created Scalped, an immersive play about afro hair.
“There’s this air of fascination and curiosity, as if the very act of rocking non-treated hair is a spectacle: it’s simply what naturally comes out of our scalps
“The British attitude of viewing it as this separate oddity is baffling. People ask, or just straight up touch it, whether it’s natural or not, to be honest – so many of my friends have stories regardless of the style. The overriding feeling is always an apparently acceptable invasion of personal space. Are we animals or something less than human to be stroked or petted?”
Tulloch said natural hair movements are “confidence building” and offer the “reassurance to choose to wear one’s hair naturally [and that] you are not alone. That it is your right to do this. Of course, it is also about having the right to express one’s visibility.”
Tulloch said she wore her hair naturally in the early 90s. “I grew dreadlocks. I used to notice from time to time white members of the public step back, but not sure if it was the locks or just that I was black.”