Munroe Bergdorf has announced that she’s joining L’Oréal Paris’s Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Board. Bergdorf released the statement via Twitter on Tuesday, and it follows a huge public outcry that reignited amidst protests and fights for racial equality taking place around the world following the murder of George Floyd in the US last month.
Bergdorf’s relationship with L’Oréal Paris dates back to 2017, when the model and transgender activist was fired by the company for speaking out about racism following a violent demonstration by far-right, white extremists in Charlottesville, VA. At the time, L’Oréal said her comments were “at odds” with the brand’s values and, as a result, Bergdorf received many threats to her safety online. Speaking to The Guardian at the time, she said: “The most ridiculous thing is that you call out racism and they respond with more racism. It just doesn’t make any sense.”
On 4 June, Bergdorf called out L’Oréal Paris for appearing to support the Black Lives Matter movement, without ever previously addressing or being remorseful for sacking her in 2017. “This could have been a moment of redemption for L’Oréal, a chance for them to make amends and lead by example,” she wrote. “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.”
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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.
In her statement released on Tuesday, Bergdorf explained that following her original post this week, she spoke with L’Oréal Paris’s new president, Delphine Viguier, who reached out to her 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,” she wrote.
She also explained that part of her work as an activist is to encourage big businesses to “understand their responsibility with regards to diversity and inclusion,” which is why she accepted their offer to rejoin the brand in this consultant capacity. “I believe in accountability and progress, not cancellation and grudges.” You can read Bergdorf’s full statement above.
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