This blog about why we’ve adopted the Halo Code is written by Jade Beckles, our Diversity & Inclusion Advisor.
This Black History Month’s (BHM) official theme has been very profound for me for many reasons. As a Black woman and a feminist, I have found strength and pride in the fact that we are not only celebrating the rich tapestry of achievements within the Black community but also shining a spotlight on a group of unsung heroes who have so often been overlooked: Black women.
Black women have made lasting contributions to society, but their voices are too often unheard, accomplishments downplayed, and our journeys tainted by systemic discrimination. At GatenbySanderson, we are not merely observers in this crucial narrative; we are active participants.
I am delighted to announce our demonstration of this commitment through our recent adoption of the Halo Code. In this blog, I wish to delve into the profound significance of this commitment and what it signifies for Black women in our workplace and beyond. We are not just talking the talk; we are showing the way, standing firmly in support of Black women, and boldly confronting the systems that marginalise us.
The Halo Code: A Beacon of Change
The Halo Collective, founded by young Black organisers, aims to eradicate hair discrimination. They call on all UK schools and workplaces to adopt the Halo Code, which celebrates and protects Black hairstyles, including afros, braids, locs, twists, wigs, and weaves, dismantling age-old hair biases while promoting inclusivity and respect. This embodies our belief that every individual is free to authentically express their identity, thus creating a space where everyone feels valued and empowered.
I am so proud that we at GatenbySanderson have embarked on this journey of inclusivity for Black women, as for us the Halo Code is a beacon of hope. It signifies that our natural hair is not tolerated, not accepted, but celebrated. It’s a powerful symbol of progress and a tribute to the relentless advocacy of Black women fighting for change.
But it’s just hair?
In the rich tapestry of human history, hair has always been more than just strands on our heads. It’s a symbol of identity, culture, and personal expression. For Black women, our hair has a complex and deeply rooted history, one that is intertwined with politics, discrimination, and a triumphant reclamation of our self. The most common response when expressing what our hair means to us and how it is often perceived is “But it’s just hair”. From my own personal experience, I wish for nothing but hair equity, but sadly this is not the case.
Afro hair and hairstyles have always been an important symbol of identity, family, heritage, age, community, religion and more – a visual language in itself. But like many African characteristics, this was erased through the transatlantic slave trade and colonialism. The ramifications of hair discrimination continue to this day, which stresses the transformative potential of the Halo Code.
A History of Hair Oppression
In the Western World Black women’s hair has long been historically policed and politicised, and still is even today. Our natural hair textures and styles have been deemed ‘unprofessional’, ‘unkempt’, ‘unattractive’ and ‘inappropriate’ in schools and places of work. This discriminatory practice stems largely from Eurocentric beauty standards and the oppressive legacy of white supremacy. For decades, Black women have been subjected to relentless scrutiny and prejudice, all because of the texture of our hair.
Let’s rewind to an era marked by the oppressive days of slavery. During this dark period, various regions across the Western world implemented oppressive legislation aimed at controlling Black women’s appearance, including the enforcement of laws like the ‘Tignon Law’ in the United States and ‘Code Noir’ in France. Under these laws, Black women were compelled to conceal their natural hair and thus their heritage by wearing headwraps, a method employed to dehumanise and control them.
During these harsh times, Black women displayed remarkable ingenuity by braiding trail patterns into afro hair as a secret map to guide slaves when fleeing plantations. Additionally, they would weave rice grains and other vital provisions into their hair to sustain themselves during arduous journeys. These age-old customs have shaped today’s braided hair patterns into a spiritual link and mark of respect to our ancestors who risked the ultimate price to seize their own freedom.
During the 1960s and 1970s the Black Panthers, a civil rights organisation committed to challenging systemic racism and advocating for Black empowerment, would often sport afro hairstyles. They found themselves in the crosshairs of law enforcement and government agencies. The Black Panthers and the afro became often unjustly associated with terrorism. This association was a deeply flawed and biased perception, as the Afros worn by Black Panthers and Black people in general, was a declaration of self-respect, cultural pride, and defiance against racial oppression.
Even today in schools, Black girls often encounter non-inclusive dress code policies that unfairly single out their natural hair. Some policies prohibit braids or require hair to be below a certain point, which can be challenging when Black hair naturally grows upwards and outwards, unlike Eurocentric hair that tends to grow downwards. According to the Halo Collective, which campaigns against hair discrimination, 46% of parents said their children’s school policy penalised Afro hair. School student ‘Ruby’ was repeatedly sent home from school in 2016 having been ‘told by teachers that her hair was ‘obstructing’ the view of others and was distracting’. The labelling of Black hair as a ‘distraction’ in its natural state leaves Black girls with little choice but to resort to unnatural methods in an attempt to ‘tame’ its perceived ‘wildness’. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has subsequently supported Ruby’s position.
The ‘Power of Hair’ study conducted by the Perception Institute in partnership with Glamour magazine found that Black women with natural hairstyles, such as afros, braids, or twists, were often perceived as less professional, less competent, and less likeable compared to white women and Black women with straightened or relaxed hair. The result? Many Black women have resorted to chemically straightening their hair (me included) or wearing wigs solely to conform to these biased standards and fit in or progress in our places of work. This coded message of unconscious bias takes a toll, suppressing our uniqueness and driving conformity within a predominantly white, corporate culture.
Redefining Beauty and Identity: Reclaiming Our Crown
But here’s the beautiful part of this story: Black women are rising above the discrimination and embracing our natural hair. It is quite literally a crown on our heads, a testament to our heritage and strength.
More and more Black women are rejecting the shackles of conformity and celebrating our unique hair textures and styles. We are challenging the status quo, redefining what it means to be beautiful and professional, and demanding equity for our authentic selves. Once illegal, Black women now proudly wear our hair out for all to see, a declaration of our identity and self-acceptance.
In the past, wigs and weaves were often worn by Black women to conform to these European hair and beauty standards and to avoid hair discrimination. However, today, our choice to embrace wigs and weaves is a powerful testament to our agency and pride in our heritage. These styles have become a versatile form of self-expression, allowing us to celebrate our culture and experiment with different looks. Moreover, they serve as protective hairstyles, helping to maintain the health of our natural hair. We wear wigs and weaves not to hide but with honour, to showcase the rich diversity of our hair and most importantly to assert our right to define beauty on our own terms.
Headwraps continue to be worn, not as a symbol of oppression, but as an emblem of love and admiration for our ancestors. Today, when a Black woman dons a headwrap, it is a connection to her history, a tribute to those who endured unspeakable hardships, and a celebration of our enduring spirit. It is a gesture of love that transcends time and reminds us that we stand on the shoulders of giants.
A Call to Action
Amidst this Black History Month, public sector institutions have a unique chance to reflect on their dedication to Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. They can evaluate whether they have embraced the Halo Code, a vital move towards ensuring respect and dignity for Black women in workplaces and educational settings. If the Halo Code hasn’t been adopted, let this BHM theme serve as a significant prompt to consider it earnestly. This supports cultivating an environment where Black women can thrive, where everyone can express their authentic selves irrespective of their hair, promoting a sense of belonging, and consequently sending ripples of inclusivity throughout our society.
To my fellow Black Queens: Together we stand tall, our crowns high and shining, and our voices resounding: “Our hair, our pride, our identity – unapologetically Black”.