L'Oréal model axed for attacking white racism

Cashing in? “Because you’ve realised there is money to be made from people of colour.”

Should the world’s largest cosmetics company have sacked Munroe Bergdorf? The black, transgender model spoke yesterday about the flood of threats and abuse she has faced since her firing.

Just a few weeks ago, Munroe Bergdorf was on top of the world after becoming the first trans woman in a L’Oréal Paris UK campaign. Yet only a few days into her contract, the black, queer, transgender activist, DJ and model was sacked.

A committed social activist, she had written a Facebook post days before she started her job with L’Oréal in response to the racially motivated violence in Charlottesville, USA. She describes the piece as “an epic three-parter about how racism is a social structure and how, if this is the case, what can you do to combat it?”

“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,” she is quoted as saying. “Your entire existence is drenched in racism.”

The post went viral after the Daily Mail ran a story on it under the headline: “L’Oreal’s first transgender model is SACKED by the cosmetics giant after claiming ‘ALL white people’ are racist in extraordinary Facebook rant.” Facebook then immediately removed the post for “violating its regulations on hate speech”.

The very public row comes at a sensitive time for L’Oréal which is spending millions promoting its passion for “inclusivity and diversity, because we believe everyone is worth it,” and on a new product range, “True Match” foundation, which comes in shades to suit 98% of skin tones.

Some are now calling for a boycott of L'Oréal using the hashtag #boycottLOreal. The actor Kelechi Okafor tweeted: “L’Oréal is hereby cancelled. Munroe Bergdorf spoke openly about the TRUTH that white supremacy underpins our society.”

And yesterday Bergdorf pointed out in a TV interview how she had been sacked while the model Cheryl, who was once convicted of punching a black toilet attendant in the face, is still employed as an ambassador for L'Oréal.

Skin deep?

L'Oréal has a perfect right to sack her, say some. First, the Facebook post was incredibly naive and Bergdorf should have known it would blow up in her face. Second, L’Oréal cannot afford to alienate its many white customers however hard it is trying to be inclusive. Third, with her aggressive reaction Bergdorf has proved she is trouble and it was best to act quickly.

But the Bergdorf defence is strong. She was scarcely arguing anything unusual. Famous writers like James Baldwin and Ta-Nehisi Coates have won huge acclaim for saying much the same. Just because she is a model is she not allowed to have strong views? What’s more, L’Oréal hired her precisely for her campaigning image but fired her for actually campaigning. It should have defended her, not sacked her.

You Decide

  1. Do you think it right that someone's personal social media writings can affect their career?
  2. What does "diversity" mean to you?

Activities

  1. Study the L’Oréal website and branding. In a few sentences write down what personality you think they are trying to get across.
  2. Create an advertising presentation for a beauty product which promotes diversity in the industry. Share your campaign with the class.

Some People Say...

“White America' is a syndicate arrayed to protect its exclusive power to dominate and control our bodies.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The 30-year-old model Munroe Bergdorf was sacked from L'Oréal Paris last week. This followed a clipping of a Facebook post going viral. It claimed that all white people are responsible for racial violence. Bergdorf, born a boy named Ian to a white English mother and a Jamaican father, said that her post was a response to the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville in August.
What do we not know?
We do not know exactly what the rest of Bergdorf's post said. Bergdorf described in an interview with Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid how the Daily Mail had screenshotted and clipped her original post. This had explained, for instance, the need for a more balanced approach to teaching race relations in school, to avoid what she calls a “white-washed” version of history.

Word Watch

Queer
People who identify as “queer” recognise that there are lots of different gender and sexual identities aside from categories such as “male” or “female” and “heterosexual” or “homosexual”.
Transgender
A transgender person is someone who does not identity with the gender assigned at birth. In Bergdorf's case, she was born male but began living as a woman at the age of 24.
Charlottesville
The “Unite the Right” rally on August 12th in Charlottesville, Virginia (USA) resulted in violence between far-right protesters and left-wing counter-protesters when a car rammed into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one and injuring 19.
Racism
The underlying message of Bergdorf's post was that society is set up to favour white people and that it was created through the exploitation of non-white people. In this way, she is arguing, racism has become “institutionalised”.
James Baldwin
An American writer, Baldwin was also a political and social activist.
Ta-Nehisi Coates
Coates is a national correspondent for The Atlantic, and writes Marvel’s latest Black Panther series.

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