CW: This article mentions acts of violence against black trans people.
Model and activist Munroe Bergdorf has agreed to rejoin L’Oréal as a member of their new diversity and inclusion board in an effort to create real change against racial discrimination, particularly within the beauty industry. Bergdorf, the first transgender model hired by L’Oréal in the UK back in 2017, was dropped from a campaign by the company after speaking out against white supremacy.
Bergdorf came to public attention in August 2017 when she was employed as the first transgender model to front a L’Oréal campaign in the UK, having been announced as one of 27 models taking part in L’Oréal UK’s ‘True Match’ campaign. Bergdorf was however dropped from the campaign in September of the same year as a result of her calling out white supremacy in the aftermath of the Charlottesville ‘Unite the Right’ rally. Bergdorf’s views were heavily publicised, including in an article by The Daily Mail which highlighted some comments that she had made on Facebook. Bergdorf felt that all white people were guilty of ‘racial violence’ and that the white race was ‘the most violent and oppressive force of nature on Earth.’ Her comments sparked much backlash, despite the fact that Bergdorf was opening up an incredibly important discussion about white privilege. Instead of listening and learning, Bergdorf was silenced by the industry that initially jumped at the chance to hire her.
L’Oréal champions diversity. Comments by Munroe Bergdorf are at odds with our values and so we have decided to end our partnership with her.
— L’Oréal Paris UK (@LOrealParisUK) September 1, 2017
Once L’Oréal had dropped Bergdorf, she was left having to defend herself across a range of media platforms, including in a televised interview on Good Morning Britain in which the broadcaster and journalist, Piers Morgan, strongly denied his privileged stance as a straight, cisgender, white man. He argued that he found Bergdorf’s claims to be ‘offensive’ and believed them to be inciting ‘more division,’ with Morgan even going as far to say that she was ‘playing [her]old trick of being the victim.’ This was a prime example of someone with privilege ignoring the reality of systemic racism. It is vital now more than ever to be listening to the marginalised voices whose experiences can serve to educate people who need their eyes opened. Transphobia, like racism, is still very much a reality. One only needs to look at recent cases like the attack on Iyanna Dior, a black, trans woman living in Minnesota, or the fatal police shooting of Tony McDade, a black trans man from Florida, or the death of Nina Pop a black trans woman from Missouri, as a result of being stabbed, to see the problem. Bergdorf is such a guiding voice who everyone should be following and listening to in order to understand systemic racism and, in particular, the increased discrimination of black, trans figures in society.
Now, three years later, Bergdorf has spoken out against the company’s ‘gaslighting’ show of support for the Black Lives Matter movement, particularly in response to the wording of its Instagram post, ‘Speaking Out is Worth It.’ Her response can be seen below:
View this post on Instagram
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.
Bergdorf followed this up with another statement on Instagram, saying:
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…
The creation of, and Bergdorf’s inclusion on, L’Oréal’s new advisory board indicates an important reassessment by the brand and is perhaps a direct response to Bergdorf’s statement:
If you want to stand with Black Lives Matter then get your own house in order first… Speaking out can’t only be “worth it” when you’re white. Black voices matter.
After some behind the scenes discussions, L’Oréal unveiled their new partnership with Bergdorf via a statement from the Brand’s President, Delphine Viguier, which can be seen in the Instagram post below.
View this post on Instagram
“I had an honest, transparent and vulnerable conversation with Munroe Bergdorf. We listened to each other and shared our feelings and perspectives on the situation with open hearts and minds. It was a powerful moment of human connection. Here is what I heard from her: 3 years ago, Munroe felt silenced by a brand, L’Oréal Paris, that had the power to amplify her voice. While we both agree today that negative labels should not be used to define all individuals in any group, I understand much better the pain and trauma that were behind Munroe’s words back then and the urgency she felt to speak in defense of the Black community against systemic racism. I regret the lack of dialogue and support the company showed Munroe around the time of the termination. We should have also done more to create a conversation for change as we are now doing. We support Munroe's fight against systemic racism and as a company we are committed to work to dismantle such systems. Here is how we will move forward: As we stand united in our advocacy against all forms of racism, we will take action together. The L’Oréal Group is forming a UK Diversity & Inclusion Advisory Board of voices inside and outside the company, who will influence and inform our action plan. I have invited Munroe to participate on this Board and thank her for graciously accepting. We will honor Munroe’s advocacy for both the Trans and Black communities. L’Oréal will be donating to associations that support social justice and causes that are deeply personal to Munroe’s experience. Speaking out is worth it, only if we are able to listen, learn and grow. We all want to contribute to a society in which everyone can live safely, peacefully and equally, and that begins with repairing relationships and moving forward together. I thank @munroebergdorf for her willingness to do this.” – Delphine Viguier – L’Oreal Paris Brand President Image credit: @lukenugentphotography
Key aspects of Bergdorf’s response read as follows (the full response can be seen on the second and third slides of the above post):
This week, I spoke to L’Oréal Paris new president Delphine Viguier, who reached out to me directly. We had an open and constructive conversation, she listened to what I had to say and expressed her regret for how the situation was handled three years ago.
As an activist, part of my work is to encourage big businesses 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.
Over the past three years, I have realised my responsibility as an activist is to help to unite us as people, regardless of our identity. We are all in an exciting time of change. I hope this reconciliation is proof that we can all find a way to put aside our differences and work together to push for a more progressive, fair and equal world.
Bergdorf accompanied her statement with a message of thanks to everyone who has supported her over the past three years and expressed her hope for a fairer future, saying that she was ‘looking forward to new beginnings and a new positive relationship with the L’Oréal team.’ L’Oréal Paris’ decision to donate almost £45,000 to LGBT+ charities (Mermaids and UK Black Pride) shows that the brand is finally taking vital action to create change and support diverse causes, but it must kept in mind that, whilst extremely helpful, donations on their own will not incite major change. L’Oréal, as one of the world’s leading cosmetic companies, must practice what they preach and create change in various different forms. Bergdorf’s appointment as a member of L’Oréal’s diversity and inclusion board will undoubtedly spark lasting change, not only within the L’Oréal Group itself but within the wider beauty industry, in overcoming racial prejudice and representing the LGBTQIA+ community.
Follow Munroe Bergdorf on Twitter and Instagram to keep up to date with her work. I would also highly recommend listening to this recent podcast interview with Bergdorf to hear more about her activism and experiences.