With around 30 members in The Halo Collective all sharing their very real experience of hair discrimination in the UK, the collective was founded by young black organisers from The Advocacy Academy. A “transformational Social Justice Youth Organising Movement for young people from South London who are passionate about creating a more fair, just and equal society”. Their mission is as simple as ever on paper, end hair inequality and discrimination for black and afro-textured hair.
We sat down with two members of the collective, Ilhan, Head of Media, and Thalia, Head of Research, to find out more…
WHO ARE YA?
Ilhan: We are the Halo collective, a campaign based in South London, trying to end hair discrimination across the UK, in schools and workplaces.
Thalia: I’d say we represent young black kids in schools employment and not just females but males too. Anyone that feels like they have to fit a certain definition of professionalism that is not encompassing.
Ilhan: Hair discrimination can be so subtle. Alongside ending hair discrimination, we are trying to popularise the law (Equality Act 2010), highlighting hair. Because it is a law that is easily overlooked and it can be in many forms, whether it is completely embedded in a company or a school policy. These are now microaggressions, things like; kids being sent home from school for having braids or unnatural hair colour. Or for boys, it may be for having waves or any other type of hairstyle, for some people it’s that, but it feels like it ranges into how it may appear, but it exists.”
How did you get here?
Thalia: I think we just realised so many of us have had similar experiences. We are all relatively young and have now started to move into the workplace where we’ve seen how those dress codes have continued – we feel as though we can never express ourselves fully.I had a few instances, people have it a lot worse but for example, I had a university interview and they said to me that I had to go with straight hair, otherwise they wouldn’t take me seriously. Personally, I should have the freedom to wear my hair however I want, in whatever situation. But it was the fact they said I couldn’t express myself how I wanted to to gain access to that institution, and that sat with me.
Ilhan: I’d say that it shuts you down, for some people hair isn’t a big deal. But it is a massive part of self-expression and black culture. Until now, we all share stories, like “oh my god do you remember when your mum used to do your and she would use the little bobbles that would hit across your head” or “I used to have these kinds of cornrows”. It is a bonding experience; it is a cultural thing, hair is a massive part of our culture. And the same with boys, you hear it all the time like going to the barbershop and getting their haircut is a big deal for them. Their barber is kind of the therapist or their friend, never cheat on your barber, it is a bonding experience.
Ilhan: I would describe our journey as up and down if I’m being honest, since starting! Only because we are a group of young people, ranging from 17- 23 years old. So these are all peak years for us; some are doing A-levels, University exams, Masters, some people even have full-time jobs and have to do this on the side. So it is just managing that, but apart from that, because there are so many of us, it has been OK in terms of, handing things over and helping out each other.
What sets you apart?
Thalia: We are young, there is not a company like us working to end it across the grassroots. Companies like Pantene and Dove are doing it, but they are doing it through their products. Finding accessible information on our hair is difficult, especially if you look up videos on something like hair bleaching, 9/10 there are no videos for our hair. It took me a long time to find a hair routine, and you kind of have to sometimes do that journey by yourself because there are not enough resources out there that tell you exactly how to treat your hair properly.
For us, we are tackling the day-to-day places it can happen.
Ilhan: The code is what we would want schools and workplaces to adopt. It Is a way of holding people to account because that was one of the aims of the campaign of popularising the law. Even though it is a law, it is one that easily slips through the cracks, so we wanted to remind our community that it is something you can hold people accountable for. For example, M&S has adopted the code, if you are someone who works for M&S, you can flag it up to us and we can work out what to do.
As part of the collective, we have a range of different teams. I am media, Thalia is research, there is a Legal and Political team, a coalitions team, etc. so it would be flagged up to one of us, and then the next steps. So far, that hasn’t happened, but it is there so people adhere to the code. But what we wanted to do in the future, was to go into these workplaces while they have diversity meetings, etc, and lead workshops or PowerPoint presentations for schools, to keep refreshing it in people’s minds. Because that is what they do for everything that needs to be flagged up.
I was shocked to see M&S take this on, being contacted by all of these are massive organisations… we did not ever expect that. But also, the first school that adopted it was in Manchester, and we are in South London, and Londoners are in a bubble sometimes, so to see it was up in North now, is amazing.
It has been a great response and it is doing what we need it to do.
Next 5 years, where are you?
Thalia: To have some of us employed full time for this campaign. Being volunteers, things fall through the cracks sometimes. And having the Halo code all over the country, but not just stick it on a wall. Following through with it and having it embedded in their training.