Her appearance in the campaign seemed to represent a huge step forward for the beauty industry – her firing is a sad look at how diversity is disposable
Last week, Munroe Bergdorf became the first transgender woman to feature in a L’Oréal Paris UK campaign for their True Match foundation. It seemed to represent a huge step forward for the beauty industry, in creating a campaign that begins to truly reflect the diversity of womanhood. Munroe, who is both black and trans, represented a minority experience usually rendered invisible in an industry which has barely begun to acknowledge the existence of trans people and in which women of colour are regularly ignored – right down to the availability of shades of foundation to match their skin tone. L’Oréal Paris UK used Munroe’s image and her voice to market its purported brand values of diversity. Her ad ended with an inclusive variation on the iconic slogan “Because we’re all worth it”. Now, it’s abundantly clear we apparently aren’t.
On Sunday August 13 2017 Bergdorf wrote a post in response to the white supremacist and neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in which she wrote that all white people benefit from racism, have learned and internalised racist practices and opinions and must be engaged in dismantling their unconscious racism, which at present helps to maintain a system of white supremacy.
While many queer people of colour united their voices with Munroe’s and attested to their lived experience of systemic and interpersonal racism, her post was also met with harsh hostile criticism. A series of harassing comments and posts that were powerfully racist, anti-black, transphobic and misogynist in their language followed. We believe these comments were intended to humiliate Munroe Bergdorf personally and professionally. Facebook removed Munroe Bergdorf’s post yet refused to remove the posts of her detractors.
Today, this scrutiny was intensified by the Daily Mail’s decision to publish fragments of her post without context and with an editorial tone designed to underscore racist stereotypes about black women’s anger – using for example, words like “rant” to describe a detailed and specific response to a news story. The Mail published the name on Bergdorf’s birth certificate – a move made with the specific intention of undermining and invalidating trans womanhood.
In response to the story, L’Oréal Paris has announced that they will be ending their professional relationship with Munroe Bergdorf with immediate effect, tweeting “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”. In doing this they have quickly disposed of a model hired to improve diverse representation and conceded, uncritically, to a misleading article by a newspaper notoriously used to promoting racism and transphobia.
“They have quickly disposed of a model hired to improve diverse representation and conceded, uncritically, to a misleading article by a newspaper notoriously used to promoting racism and transphobia”
We, as trans women and feminists, are alive to the constant precarity with which trans women of colour exist in public spaces and in public life and the disposability that marginalises black trans women. We believe that L’Oréal has used social justice as a cynical marketing tool, using the beauty of black trans women without genuinely supporting them.
The phrase “all white people are racist” is often received with some controversy. However, it speaks to an uncomfortable truth about the way in which we are all socialised into a system of white supremacy. Racism is a global system of exploitation that reaches back centuries designed to benefit white people at the expense of people of colour. With such a long heritage, which endures to the present moment, we must acknowledge that ‘reverse racism’ against white people cannot exist.
We stand with Munroe and all queer and trans people of colour who are engaged simultaneously in the fight for queer liberation and for liberation from racism and white supremacy. We believe that the emboldened visibility of fascists – both in the United States and in Europe – requires a greater solidarity among queer and trans people and among women committed to the project of feminism.
We believe all queer people, feminists and allies must recognise that antiracism is an integral part of queer, trans and feminist liberation – and that any queer activism that is not also antiracist and antifascist will perpetuate white supremacy.
We commit ourselves to bringing about a better community and a better world by not retreating from uncomfortable and difficult conversations with one another about racism but instead seeing ourselves as part of a shared political project to overthrow and destroy these inequalities. The media, beauty industry outlets, companies and individuals which aid and abet this are doing grave damage to activists so committed to making the necessary changes our communities so desperately need.