Earlier this week, L’Oréal UK took a step forward in representation by naming Munroe Bergdorf, a London-based DJ and activist, as the star of its latest YoursTruly True Match line, making her the first trans woman to front a L’Oréal UK campaign. And then L’Oréal UK took five huge steps back by stripping her of the role because a Facebook post she wrote about white privilege following the Charlottesville riot.
A Daily Mail article quoted her now-deleted Facebook post, labeling it a “rant,” claiming it was written after she was officially named the face of L’Oréal and removing the Charlottesville context because uh it’s the Daily Mail. The text of the post (according to the Daily Mail, unfortunately):
Honestly I don’t have energy to talk about the racial violence of white people any more. Yes ALL white people.
Because most of ya’ll don’t even realise or refuse to acknowledge that your existence, privilege and success as a race is built on the backs, blood and death of people of colour. Your entire existence is drenched in racism. From micro-aggressions to terrorism, you guys built the blueprint for this s***.
Come see me when you realise that racism isn’t learned, it’s inherited and consciously or unconsciously passed down through privilege.
Once white people begin to admit that their race is the most violent and oppressive force of nature on Earth… then we can talk.
Until then stay acting shocked about how the world continues to stay f***** at the hands of your ancestors and your heads that remain buried in the sand with hands over your ears.
Both Bergdorf and L’Oréal received backlash following the Daily Mail article, and this morning, L’Oréal announced that it had parted ways with Bergdorf, citing, of all things, “diversity.”
Yep. They actually took the bait and had the audacity to fire their spokesperson who was speaking up for people being terrorized by white supremacy under the guise of championing diversity.
Bergdorf responded by explaining her original point, which was made in light of the white supremacist violence that played out in Charlottesville weeks ago. In a new Facebook post, she essentially gave a crash course in racial history and politics, writing:
Secondly, identifying that the success of the British Empire has been at the expense of the people of colour, is not something that should offend ANYONE. It is a fact. It happened. Slavery and colonialism, at the hands of white supremacy, played a huge part in shaping the United Kingdom and much of the west, into the super power that it is today.
When I stated that “all white people are racist,” I was addressing that fact that western society as a whole, is a SYSTEM rooted in white supremacy - designed to benefit, prioritise and protect white people before anyone of any other race. Unknowingly, white people are SOCIALISED to be racist from birth onwards. It is not something genetic. No one is born racist.
It is insane that Bergdorf had to explain that she didn’t think all white people were inherently personally racist, but that racial attitudes, embedded in a history of the subjugation of people of color, are socialized. It hasn’t even been a month since white supremacists with tiki torches yelled “Jews will not replace us,” and the president of the United States called them “fine people.” Come the fuck on. Just because you aren’t holding the torch doesn’t mean you’re not benefiting from the same system that lets others do so.
But then again, we’re talking about L’Oréal, a brand that only recently realized women with dark skin need makeup too.
Diversity initiatives are really tricky. Because people of color and LGBTQ-identifying people continue to be shut out of media, it always feels like a win when a giant brand recognizes them. And in some ways it is. But obviously that recognition only goes so far. Brands don’t actually want actual diversity which includes a range of experiences and histories. They don’t want to look at how the system they’ve found success in has come at a cost for others. They just want a brown face and a cookie for including people they excluded for so long because they think those people can make them some money.
As Bergdorf wrote, calling out the difference between “what is genuine allyship and what is performative”:
If L’Oreal truly wants to offer empowerment to underrepresented women, then they need to acknowledge THE REASON why these women are underrepresented within the industry in the first place. This reason is discrimination - an action which punches down from a place of social privilege. We need to talk about why women of colour were and still are discriminated against within the industry, not just see them as a source of revenue.
Don’t worry though. L’Oréal US still has Cherokee-American icon Blake Lively to keep pushing for diversity and speak for all of us.