First 'Afro hair code' launches to protect Black people from hair discrimination

A group of young Black activists have launched the UK’s first Black hair code for schools and workplaces to prevent discrimination based on hair style or texture.

The Halo Collective, a newly formed alliance working to create a future without hair discrimination, has today launched the Halo Code, and Unilever UK, Dove’s parent company, is the first employer to adopt the code, with more schools and workplaces to be announced in the coming week. 

Race-based hair discrimination has been illegal in the UK since the Equalities Act became law in 2010, but it is still a regular occurrence.

58% of Black students have experienced name calling or uncomfortable questions about their hair at school, and 1 in 5 Black women feel societal pressure to straighten their hair for work – according to research conducted by World Afro Day and De Montfort University

For many Black students and employees, battling workplace dress codes – official or unofficial – is part of everyday life. They are forced to choose between their education or career on the one hand, and their cultural identity and hair health on the other. 

The Halo Code explicitly protects students and employees who come to school or work with natural hair and protective hairstyles associated with their racial, ethnic, and cultural identities.

The code aims to give Black people the freedom and security to wear all Afro hairstyles without restriction or judgment. 

Every member of the Halo Collective has experienced hair discrimination firsthand and been failed by their educators or employers.

Esther is 19. She says she was called names by members of her own family, and says her experiences of trying to burn her hair straight were traumatic.

‘I remember the disagreements I had with my mother about putting extensions in my hair at seven years old,’ Esther tells Metro.co.uk.

The Halo Code – for workplaces

Our workplace champions the right of staff to embrace all Afro-hairstyles. We acknowledge that Afro-textured hair is an important part of our Black employees’ racial, ethnic, cultural, and religious identities, and requires specific styling for hair health and maintenance.

We celebrate Afro-textured hair worn in all styles including, but not limited to, afros, locs, twists, braids, cornrows, fades, hair straightened through the application of heat or chemicals, weaves, wigs, headscarves, and wraps.

In this workplace, we we recognise and celebrate our colleagues’ identities. We are a community built on an ethos of equality and respect where hair texture and style have no bearing on an employees ability to succeed.

The Halo Collective

‘I had cut them out myself as I knew it wasn’t my hair and couldn’t grasp the idea of why it was mixed with my hair. After having my scalp burnt from straightening my hair, the trauma turned into my natural hair journey.

‘I remember the times I got into trouble in school for my Afro and the times that girls were sent to isolation units because of the hair that grew upwards out of their crown. It was deemed a distraction and not a garment of beauty.

‘The Halo Collective is a step towards this no longer being a reality for students like me.’

Thalia is 21. She straightened and damaged her hair for years, and when she did start wearing her natural Afro hair, she was told she wouldn’t be taken seriously or seen as professional.

‘My mum had tried to raise me to appreciate my hair, but when you’re a kid the whispers of other children in the playground start to get to you, and all you want more than anything is to fit in,’ says Thalia.

‘Even in sixth form when I did start to embrace my hair, I was constantly told I wouldn’t be taken seriously in professional settings with my curly hair and that I should straighten it so that I’m more likely to be accepted.

‘Now, I’m at a point in my life where I’m finally able to explore the products and hairstyles that work for me, but microagressions reinforce the structures that uphold hair discrimination.

‘People commenting that my “dreads” look good when I have braids, just demonstrates the complete lack of education when it comes to Black hair.

‘Until the intricacies and uniqueness of Black hair are understood and appreciated in the mainstream, hair discrimination will continue to affect Black communities.’

Organisers are now inviting all schools and workplaces to adopt the Halo Code to help ensure that Black people can learn and work free of hair discrimination.

‘Hair discrimination is still worrying common,’ says Maurice Mcleod, CEO of Race On The Agenda.

‘People should not be penalised for the hair that naturally grows from their heads. Despite equality legislation, some schools and workplaces still have very fixed ideas about what “professional” hair looks like and all too often, this is from a white European lens.

‘People of colour in general – and Black people in particular – have enough challenges to traverse when it comes to education and employment, so it is important that we make sure they are not discriminated against because of their hair.’

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