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Sharon Chuter Calls for Redefining ‘Black’ in ‘Make It Black’ Campaign

"Black is classic, black is timeless, black is stylish, black is chic," Chuter told reporters in a virtual press conference.

A new campaign, called “Make It Black,” from beauty entrepreneur and activist Sharon Chuter aims to reverse the negative connotations associated with the word “black.”

In a press conference held via Zoom on Jan. 28, Chuter cited currently listed synonyms for the word “black” — “vile, evil, nefarious, threatening and oppressive” — that stem from the false, colonial thinking that “white is right.”

“We’re taking a stand this Black History Month against that language,” Chuter told reporters. The goal of Make It Black is “not only to reject the definitions, but also to celebrate the beauty of black, and we hope in doing so people can actually see that black is beautiful and black means more.”

In conjunction with Chuter’s Pull Up For Change, Make It Black will partner with Briogeo, Colourpop, Dragun Beauty, Flower Beauty, Maybelline, Morphe, NYX Professional Makeup, Pur and Uoma Beauty, the brand Chuter founded and leads, to repackage each brands’ most popular products in black. The limited-edition items will be sold throughout the month of February via Ulta Beauty’s website, as well as Make It Black and the participating brands’ own channels.

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Sharon Chuter Make It Black
Sharon Chuter aims to redefine “black” and raise money for Black-owned businesses via the “Make It Black” campaign. Courtesy of Sharon Chuter

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Dave Kimbell, president of Ulta Beauty, which just appointed Tracee Ellis Ross as its diversity and inclusion adviser, expressed the retailer’s commitment to “amplify and celebrate Black voices.” The product assortment “can spark a powerful dialogue, help shift perceptions, and very importantly, accelerate future beauty leaders on their journeys,” he said in a provided statement.

All proceeds from the Make It Black campaign will go to the newly established Pull Up For Change Impact Fund, which aims to address the lack of investment in Black-owned businesses. A 2019 report by RateMyInvestor and Diversity VC found that out of nearly 10,000 venture-backed founders, more than three-quarters were white. About 18 percent were Asian, while 1.8 percent were Latine. Only 1 percent of those founders were Black.

In an effort to combat these statistics, the Pull Up For Change Impact Fund will provide grants, via live pitch contests, to pre-seed funding stage businesses that might be able to use the money to create prototypes — and receive further investment. The live pitch contests are meant to be “completely democratic and completely transparent,” Chuter said. Make It Black’s website will also display a live, fund allocation tracker for transparency’s sake.

“We will be deploying between $25,000 to $100,000 per founder to make sure that it can make a change in their businesses,” Chuter said, specifying the fund’s goal of raising $5 million in February.

“We are not taking equity in any of [these] businesses, it is not a loan, they’re not required to pay [it] back,” she said. “The onus is on us to do the due diligence to make sure that we are giving [grants] to the best ideas.”

The Make It Black campaign approached roughly 30 venture capital firms, including VMG Partners, where Alisa Williams, one of only a handful of Black women venture capital investors, is a partner.

“[Williams is] helping us pull together a network of VC firms [and] wants to do early-stage [investing] so that when we invest in founders, they are on the radar of these firms,” Chuter said.

The fund will not focus much on mentorship, as “Black founders are very often over-mentored and under-invested,” Chuter said.

“Everybody has a mentorship program for Black founders,” she said. “There are incubators everywhere. Has anybody ever thought about what happens to these people when they come out of the mentorship program? I can tell you: nothing.”

The “Make It Black” campaign also comes with a petition to rewrite the definitions and synonyms for the word “black.” In her open letter to both the Oxford English dictionary and Merriam-Webster dictionary, Chuter wrote that language “should be neutral, unbiased and reflective of our current realities.”

Speaking to reporters, Chuter offered alternate entries for dictionary definitions of the word “black.”

“Let me tell you what should be in there to define black: luxury,” Chuter said. “Black is the color of luxury. That is the reason why The Batmobile is black. It’s the reason why Amex, the highest color is black. Black is classic, black is timeless, black is stylish, black is chic. When I say to somebody, ‘That person dresses black,’ you instantly know what I’m talking about — you know that person has rhythm.”

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