U.K.-based transgender model Munroe Bergdorf announced today (June 9, 2020) a conversation with L’Oréal president Delphie Viguier who committed to a £50,000 donation to two trans-support organizations: Mermaid’s Gender and U.K. Black Pride.
Referencing the call from the president, Bergdorf wrote, “We had an open and construction conversation, she listened to what I had to say and expressed her regret for how the situation was handled three years ago.”
In addition to the donations, Bergdorf will join L’Oréal’s U.K. Diversity and Inclusion Advisory board. Reflecting on the role, Bergdorf wrote, “I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to practice what I preach and take up that seat at the table to be the representation we deserve as a community. I believe in accountability and progress, not cancellation and grudges.
She added, “As an activist, part of my work is to encourage big business to understand their responsibility with regards to diversity and inclusion. It’s imperative that in all industries, a wide range of people from different backgrounds and experiences are in the room at all levels and in decision making roles, to reduce oversight and to create a product that is built with all people in mind.”
The call from L’Oréal followed Munroe’s criticism of the company last week. In response to the company publishing a black square with the words “Speaking out is worth it,” Munroe wrote on Instagram, “Excuse my language but I am SO angry. [Explective] YOU @lorealparis. You dropped me from a campaign in 2017 and threw me to the wolves for speaking out about racism and white supremacy.”
Bergdorf was referencing a falling out with the global beauty company not long after was signed as the first transgender face of the brand in August 2017. Responding on Facebook to neo-Nazi protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, Bergdorf wrote, “Honestly I don’t have energy to talk about the racial violence of white people any more. Yes ALL white people.”
While Bergdorf attempted to add clarity by describing her thoughts as meant to speak to the system of white supremacy favoring white people, the comment caused an uproar and rather than work to add explanation, L’Oreal used its considerable platform to officially announce it was dropping Bergdorf.
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I wanted to give @lorealparis 48 hours before writing this to see if a public apology was possible. But their choice to ignore me and not acknowledge the emotional, mental and professional harm that they caused me since sacking me in 2017, after speaking out about white supremacy and racism, speaks volumes. So does their choice to not engage with the thousands of black community members and allies who have left comments of concern on their last two posts, in response to their claim to support the black community, despite an evident history of being unwilling to talk about the issues that black people face globally because of white supremacy. Black Lives Matter is a movement for the people, by the people. It is not here to be co-opted for capital gain by companies who have no intention of actually having difficult conversations regarding white supremacy, police brutality, colonialism and systemic racism. It cannot be reduced to a series of corporate trends by brands like L'Oréal who have no intention of actually doing the work to better themselves or taking ownership of their past mistakes or conscious acts of racial bias. I would not have been sacked if I had said what I said and was a cisgender, straight, white woman. It just wouldn't have happened. If you want to stand with black lives matter then get your own house in order first. This could have been a moment of redemption for L'Oréal, a chance for them to make amends and lead by example. We all get things wrong, we all make mistakes, but it's where you go from there that is a signifier of who you are. L'Oréal claiming to stand with the black community, yet also refusing to engage with the community on this issue, or apologise for the harm they caused to a black female queer transgender employee, shows us who they are – just another big brand who seeks to capitalise from a marginalised movement, by widening their audience and attempting to improve their public image. Brands need to be aware of their own track record. It's unacceptable to claim to stand with us, if the receipts show a history of silencing black voices. Speaking out can’t only be “worth it” when you’re white. Black voices matter.
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Excuse my language but I am SO angry. FUCK YOU @lorealparis. You dropped me from a campaign in 2017 and threw me to the wolves for speaking out about racism and white supremacy. With no duty of care, without a second thought. I had to fend for myself being torn apart by the world's press because YOU didn't want to talk about racism. You even tried to get me to incriminate myself with pairing me up with your shady lawyers, when I had done NOTHING wrong. THAT is what you get for 'speaking out' when employed by @lorealparis. Racist snakes. You do NOT get to do this. This is NOT okay, not even in the slightest. I said just yesterday that it would only be a matter of time before RACIST AF brands saw a window of PR opportunity to jump on the bandwagon. Fuck you. Fuck your 'solidarity'. Where was my support when I spoke out? Where was my apology? I'm disgusted and writing this in floods of tears and shaking. This is gaslighting. If you care about me or #blacklivesmatter, don't let @lorealparis get away with this.