Just days after the announcement that Munroe Bergdorf had been hired as L’Oréal’s first openly transgender model, she was fired by the cosmetics company. Her sacking came after a post she made on Facebook, described in the Daily Mail last Friday as ‘an extraordinary rant declaring all white people racist.’
The story, which went viral, and has divided public opinion hugely.
Munroe, a black transgender model and DJ, made the post in response to violence from white supremacists in Charlottesville.
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
Munroe says the original post, which has since been deleted, was ‘an epic three-parter’ about how racism is a social structure. Yet the most inflammatory lines, which she maintains were intended to be understood in context, were selected for the news stories:
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 … is built on the backs, blood and death of people of colour.
While many support Munroe for calling out racism, it’s unsurprising that her comments (as they were described in the Daily Mail) upset some people. This included Munroe’s white mother, to whom she had the ‘heartbreaking’ task of trying to explain what she meant.
However, Munroe has repeatedly stated since that she was not talking about individuals, but society as a whole. Many white people are actively campaigning against racism – something she acknowledged on her Channel 4 News interview, in which she talked of white allies and her white family.
The focus in this row has been on the discomfort white people feel about being called racist, rather than on how systemic racism impacts people of colour. (This discomfort is part of what is known as white fragility).
Having a woman you don’t know say on Facebook that all white people are racist might well be a little upsetting. However, this doesn’t compare with the centuries of oppression, dehumanisation and violence she was talking about. It doesn’t compare with black people being killed in the US and the UK at the hands of the state.
Whether you think her comments were inappropriate or not, Munroe didn’t deserved to be sacked or face a torrent of abuse, which has included threats of death, rape and assault, and people telling her to kill herself. She was hired as part of a diversity campaign, so L’Oréal, rather than silencing a minority to appease customers like this:
@LOrealParisUK #munroebergdorf fire this hateful beast. If you don't I will not buy another L'Oréal product.
— Samantha McKen (@swood016) September 1, 2017
They could have chosen instead to fully embrace diversity and all it encompasses.
As Louisa Kiwana, L’Oréal consultant, says:
L’Oréal had an opportunity to really listen to the raw and truthful sentiments made by Munroe … they asked for this opportunity. In establishing a diversity initiative, and therefore addressing structural racism, you can’t then pick and choose what to support.
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