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Why Representation Really Matters: Aisha Thomas | TEDxBristol

In November of 2019 Aisha Thomas did a powerful TEDx talk in Bristol England about why representation matters. Aisha studied education at the University of the West of England, and went on to become Bristol's academy’s assistant principal and specialist leader in education for EDI (Equality, Diversity and Inclusion) and Community.

In her concise TEDx talk she covers the importance of representation and how without it many people tend to feel out of place. She begins by highlighting the importance of her race in the context of representation, stating that although she may have many identities, it's through the lens of race that she is speaking about. Aisha explains the racism she and her family have faced in the UK (specifically Bristol) for years, calling attention to the racial stereotypes they have been subjected to and the impact it has. She also speaks on the more subtle types of racism that go unseen because many people do not notice the flaws in how they speak to Black people and the disconnect they have from the situations. The situations she mentions have become so constant she has accepted blatant racism. However, she realized that she can no longer accept these stereotypes/comments no matter what the initial intention is.

She goes on to speak about more examples of the hardships she has faced, but circles back to the key point that representation matters. For Black people many of the representations we see of ourselves are athletes, actors, or criminals. There is little variety in how we are depicted in society. Without positive representation there will always be prejudice, racism, and feelings of displacement for Black people. She then ends the talk by giving positive examples of Black representation in the world that go overlooked, and concludes by saying “My experiences are just an illustration of the impact of lack of representation, but imagine a world where everyone was recognized, respected and acknowledged in all aspects of life. Isn’t that a world that we all deserve? Representation really matters.”

This TEDx talk is very refreshing to watch, and such an accurate representation of what it feels like to be Black and to have people misrepresent you. Growing up it was very difficult for me to find a good representation of people who look like me. What makes it worse is it's a difficult thing to talk about and people who have not experienced it can never fully understand you. I believe that things are slowly changing and will continue to change if we keep bringing up these hard topics and talking about them. This was a wonderful TEDx and I would recommend it fully.

Picture of woman with diverse hair and skin colors

Unprofessional or just not white: the problems with texturism for Black people in everyday life

How much does your hair matter to you? For many Black people our hair is a symbol of who we are and where we come from. It can tell stories of strength, pride, and growth. With the rich culture around hair, it is unfortunate that the Black community has struggled to style our hair naturally, and has had to fight texturism in every aspect of life. Since slavery, Black women have been ridiculed for their hair choices. There used to be laws stating that enslaved Black women must hide their natural hair in order to prevent men from becoming attracted to them. Laws like this lead to the long fight for hair inclusivity and pride that many still struggle with today.

What is texturism? Texturism according to Refinery 29 is “the idea that certain types of natural hair patterns are more desirable or beautiful than others.” For many decades only white hair was considered ‘professional’ in the work setting. This forced many Black people to straighten and perm their hair in an attempt to blend into the societal norms. Many formal work environments push for a ‘clean’ cut and style of hair, so that they fit into the values of the company. However, the so-called ‘clean cut’ they are referring to is not synonymous with natural Black hair. The rise in social media outlets reporting the discrimination of hair in the workforce has motivated many states to legally prohibit “race-based hair discrimination”, according to the Washingting post. Legislators have begun to be more open about the long history of discrimination based on hair, and what that means for Black people in the work force. Having to damage or otherwise uncomfortably maintain your hair for the purpose of pleasing white corporate America is ridiculous and blatantly racist. Good morning America wrote a wonderful piece about Black women embracing their natural hair during the pandemic, and how liberating it was for many who feel the pressure of having to look a certain way just to be taken seriously in the workplace. Forbes mentions the fact that someone's proximity to whiteness allows them to reap the benefits of white supremacy, and to not have to go through the same discrimination as others that don’t. Someone's hair being considered better purely because of the proximity it has to whiteness is a product of systemic racism. As of today, only 11 out of the 50 states in the US ban discrimination based on hair type/texture. This should be a standard practice for all 50 states to provide and there should be a federal law in place to prevent similar situations recurring. How would you go about solving this problem? Do you think it should be a state decision or the federal government?

Arms with makeup foundation swatches on them

Shade Ranges: The trouble with finding the right color in makeup as a minority

I remember the first time I was allowed to wear makeup. My mom had finally given in and said I was allowed because I was now a middle schooler. Naturally, I was ecstatic to finally feel so grown up—like a real teenager. That weekend some friends and I went to the mall on the hunt for cool back to school items to show the seventh and eighth graders that we were cool sixth graders. I was managing a big budget ($25) and I was more than ready to take on the Target cosmetic section. The first thing I noticed was the lack of darker shades in the foundation section. I remember watching my white friends find their shades right away, while I sat with my four options of caramel, mocha, mahogany, and cocoa. I tried to see what limited category I would fit into. The color I picked didn’t match my skin color at all, and I remember being very upset that it was way too light. My friend suggested I avoid the sun for a bit, and wait until I lighten up in winter.

For many Black and Brown people, finding makeup that compliments your skin color is such a struggle. With the white shades having 10+ options and the darker ones maybe having four if you’re lucky, it’s obvious what skin colors are desirable. Global news wrote about the difficulty people with dark skin have with trying to find makeup shades in broader ranges. Even today with the world growing more and more diverse, there is still an apparent preference for lighter skin tones in the beauty industry. Erin Dyana Mclaughin wrote a piece in the Guardian about using makeup to appear lighter. She wrote “Colorism has programmed me to view myself as everything but beautiful, or even a woman. Masculinity, ugliness and undesirability are traits that I have identified with since early adolescence.” Representation matters in every aspect of life. Lack of representation can lead to many self-esteem issues that one carries throughout their life. Colorism, which is defined by Merriam-Webste as ‘prejudice or discrimination especially within a racial or ethnic group favoring people with lighter skin over those with darker skin’ is something that is ingrained in society. We have grown up hearing phrases like ‘fairest of them all’ and have not considered the implications that linger to this day. Colorism is systemic and a way for people to uphold white beauty standards that do nothing but ‘other’ minorities from every industry and aspect of society. Even with big makeup brands today pushing for more inclusivity and a better span of options there is still so much to be done. We need to push for shade diversity to be the standard in the beauty industry and not the exception. Have you ever experienced difficulty in finding your shades?