What is being done to end microaggressions towards afro hair?

As part of their new campaign, Pantene reveal that, in the UK, 9 in 10 Black people face microaggressions related to their hair.

Hair & Beauty

A new study released by Pantene reveals the discrimination against Afro hair in the UK is widespread, with at least 93% of Black people with Afro hair having experienced microaggressions related to their hair. Of those surveyed, nearly half (46%) reported the type of microaggression they had experienced was uninvited hair touching, while only 7% of people without Afro hair were able to identify common microaggressions.

The Gold Series from Pantene's ‘My Hair Won’t Be Silenced’ campaign aims to increase awareness of hair discrimination and common microaggressions in the UK to stimulate the long-lasting change required and help end discrimination against Afro hair.

Hair has been shown to be key to self-esteem, confidence, and identity, which is why Pantene is on a mission to give more great hair days to all. The goal is >50% reduction in hair discrimination in the UK by 2025 with the My Hair Won’t Be Silenced campaign and the Power of Hair Fund.

With more than half of those surveyed (52%) stating that discrimination against their natural Afro hair has negatively affected their self-esteem or mental health, Pantene has partnered with Black Minds Matter and Project Embrace to highlight the power of hair on mental well-being and self-esteem. The brand has also launched an emotive short film featuring six Black British women talking about their own experiences of microaggressions as well as their personal journeys to embracing and celebrating their hair. Great hair days have been proven to correlate with feeling more productive, creative, less stressed, more socially powerful, more resilient, physically stronger, and more in control*.

Black Minds Matter

With only 7% of people without Afro Hair able to identify common microaggressions, Pantene will continue to work with Black Minds Matter, Project Embrace, and other partners to drive cultural debate focused on increasing awareness and education around unspoken hair bias. The Power of Hair Fund will support charity partners and community groups who share the common goal to end hair discrimination in the UK. The campaign will include educational resources crafted by experts about microaggressions, the science and beauty of Afro hair and ways to support the mission.

Other Key Findings:

  • 53% of people with Afro hair said their natural hair has been judged as unattractive or unprofessional
  • 22% of people with Afro hair have been sent home from school or work because of their hair
  • Over a third (36%) of people with Afro hair have been picked on or name called at school or work because of their hair
  • 50% of people with Afro hair agree they have changed their natural hair to meet social norms
  • 43% of people with Afro hair have not felt comfortable to wear their hair naturally at a job interview
  • 70% agree they do not feel their hair type is represented in the media / advertising

Dr Rolanda Wilkerson PhD, Pantene’s Principle Hair Scientist and Creator of Pantene Gold Series, said, “It was only when I finally learned to embrace my natural hair and release the societal pressures to conform, could I begin my personal quest - to use science to understand hair. I am now part of a team of scientists who have worked to understand more about the unique fibre of Afro textured hair and create Pantene Gold Series. Our passion and knowledge has engineered hair products that target and penetrate the damaged areas of the hair shaft and protects and nourishes the hair fibre exactly where it needs it the most - in the curves, bends and turns. Products tailored to protect Afro hair are integral, but we also need to ensure we overcome the societal bias and hair discrimination. My daughter Ava has naturally coily hair. I want her to grow up fully appreciating and understanding her hair”.

Hair Discrimination and Mental Health

Highlighting the power of hair on emotional wellbeing, the research found that 52% of respondents agree that discrimination against their natural hair has negatively affected their self-esteem or mental health. As part of the campaign, Pantene is continuing to support mental health charity Black Minds Matter, to enable community mental health support and resources, while hair discrimination is still at scale.

Agnes Mwakatuma, Founder of Black Minds Matter, said, “Many Black women are subject to racial microaggressions throughout their life - from school all the way to treatment in the workplace - with discrimination against hair and a lack of self-acceptance being an almost universal lived experience. Pantene’s campaign is much needed to emphasise that racism isn’t always explicit and can also take the form of subtle, unspoken microaggressions. When Black people face this over time, it can be incredibly detrimental to maintaining mental health. We hope that ‘My Hair Won’t Be Silenced’ will lead the way and inspire other brands in the haircare industry to take long overdue steps to cater for, and proudly represent the Black community.”

Tackling Bias

Pantene is also partnering with Project Embrace, an initiative focused on increasing representation of Afro hair within advertising and the media, to help progress its mission and its wider commitments to normalise and celebrate Afro hair within its campaigns, a journey the brand started when launching Gold Series in 2018. Research has shown that 70% of Black people agree they do not feel their hair type is represented in the media and/ or advertising.

Lekia Lée, Founder of Project Embrace, said, “We cannot expect to enjoy the benefits of an inclusive society if the images we constantly see do not reflect diversity. Advertising is a powerful medium and we can use that power for good. This is why the Pantene campaign is so important, because we cannot be what we cannot see. By showing more images of Afro textured hair in a positive light, it is giving Afro hair a voice that has been silenced for far too long. It is normalising its existence and creating the diversity we need to see. Diversity is not going away, and will never go away, so instead of wasting energy and time in fighting it, we should embrace it and benefit from it.”

Pantene launched Gold Series in the UK in January 2018 after 15 years of research with Black PHDs and scientists to provide strength and moisture for women with relaxed, natural or transitioning hair. Pantene has focused on representing all hair types, including with current brand ambassador, Somalian boxer Ramla Ali, who has been working with the brand since 2019.  

Ramla Ali, Boxer and Pantene Ambassador, said, “My personal hair journey has been a real whirlwind; I have memories from school picture day, being made to feel less beautiful than all the other girls with straight hair, and even now hair stylists try and convince me to straighten my natural hair. There are deeply entrenched beliefs in society about what is deemed more beautiful and the small, often unspoken microaggressions that come with this. That’s why I’m so proud to be a Pantene Gold Series ambassador and see this campaign come to life. It’s so important to raise awareness of the issues and ensure that all types of Afro hair are celebrated as beautiful.”

'My Hair Won’t be Silenced' has been brought to life in an emotive short film created by creative network SXWKS, which highlights issues raised in the research and celebrates the beauty of Afro-textured hair. Watch the film and find out more here.

Katharine Joy NewbyGrant, Vice President for Beauty Care Northern Europe, said, “I am delighted to see Pantene take this step to help racial equality and overcome bias towards Afro Hair in the UK. At P&G, we are working to stamp out racism and promote equal opportunities for all, both inside our workplaces and in wider society. I am proud of our progress, but we can and will do more to embrace all our differences and create a more level playing field, so every person feels they belong and is able to unlock their full potential”.

Discrimination and microaggressions against natural Afro hair types continue to be a daily reality. 3 ways to help end hair discrimination:

  1. Knowledge is key
  2. Don’t touch hair without consent
  3. Call it out

See more at www.pantene.co.uk

The Gold Series from Pantene ‘My Hair Won’t be Silenced’ campaign has been brought to life in an emotive short film with SXWKS, a group of woman sharing their experiences and stories of hair discrimination. Watch it below:

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