If you were on the Clicks website  and searched for Tresemme products, your hair was classified in four groups: dry &damaged; frizzy & dull; fine & flat and normal hair.

A picture says a thousands words, take a look…..

Clicks Tresemme

Clicks Tresemme

“It’s just hair”

Why is the Afro hair classified as “dry” and “frizzy” and yet, Caucasian straight hair is depicted as “normal”? The undercurrent is racist and blatantly ignorant.  The politics surrounding hair has been used to since colonial times to divide and discriminate across racial lines.  During apartheid the Pencil Test was a method of assessing whether a person has Afro-textured hair. In the pencil test, a pencil is pushed through the person’s hair. How easily it comes out determines whether the person has “passed” or “failed” the test.  This test was used to determine racial identity in South Africa during the apartheid era, distinguishing whites from coloureds and blacks. The test was partially responsible for splitting existing communities and families along perceived racial lines.  Those who passed the Pencil Test received better treatment and lived in better communities.

Clicks Tresemme

Although the Pencil Test was banned in 1994, the bias continues in the labour market.  According to research by Duke University, Black women with natural hairstyles including curly afros, twists or braids are less likely to get job interviews than White women or Black women with straightened hair.

Diversity in the workplace matters

A big question is – how did this campaign get the final approval? Many stakeholders viewed and approved the ad yet no one saw a problem – from the ad agency to Tresemme to Clicks. The answer, is lack of diversity in the workplace.

There are few Black people in corporate South Africa that are in decision-making roles. Ethnic minorities (in terms of economic power) are typically underrepresented compared to their percentage of the population. While White people constitute a minority in Africa, white directors average 48.9% of the directors on each board of the dataset. This rises to 71.3% when only considering South Africa.

Biases, conscious and unconscious, often precede racist practices that become embedded and normalized within organizations and society. The standard of beauty is based on the features of White people.  Physical features that do not fit this mold are excluded and prejudiced. So- no, its not just hair.

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