Today, L’Oréal Paris have dropped black trans model and activist Munroe Bergdorf from a lucrative “diversity” campaign after the Daily Mail essentially accused her of being racist against white people. She would have been the first trans woman in a L’Oréal Paris UK campaign, and the first black trans woman (that I can think of), in a major makeup campaign in the world. This is just the latest in a string of brands using and abusing black and brown bodies for financial gain, with little mind for who or what we represent.
If you follow Munroe online, you’ll know that she has strong political opinions. In between stunning selfies and updates on her club night Pussy Palace, she writes long status’s on Facebook – often calling out social injustices like racism and transphobia. She is compelled to write these, as so many of my black and LGBT peers are, because the reality of our lives in the UK mean that we see and experience these things on a day-to-day basis. They are reflected in our interactions with our white friends, the way we are treated on the streets and in the right-wing press (and sometimes even the left).
Munroe’s Facebook status after Charlottesville made complete sense to those of us at the forefront of the racial justice movement. We’ve had this conversation so many times, like when Goldsmiths University diversity officer Bahar Mustafa was charged for using the hashtag #KillAllWhiteMen on social media. As Munroe said in her statement, released after the Daily Mail article went live: “When I stated that ‘all white people are racist’, I was addressing that fact that western society as a whole, is a SYSTEM rooted in white supremacy – designed to benefit, prioritise and protect white people before anyone of any other race. Unknowingly, white people are SOCIALISED to be racist from birth onwards. It is not something genetic. No one is born racist.”
The correct response from L’Oréal – which has already displayed a questionable treatment of people of colour with a skin lightening range genuinely called “White Perfect” – would have been republishing Munroe’s statement, and throwing the full weight of their brand support behind her. They could have actually changed something; messed with the system. But profits come first, and they were clearly spooked by the post. Now, Munroe has been left vulnerable to even more racism and transphobia than before. Her social media is currently littered with terrible and terrifying comments, like “fuck you, stupid dirty and and smelly nigga”, and “fuck you, what u r? nigga? shemale?”. People have been calling for her to be killed on Twitter, which is not a joke when you remember how many black trans women are murdered each year.
And this is the thing that is so frustrating to me. You want our brown skin but not our blackness. You want our full lips, but not our loud voices. You want our “exotic” edge but not our radical politics. You want to use our bodies to tick-box your new diversity quota, but you don’t really understand why our existence is so fraught. And mainly, you are so blinded by gaining profit that you don’t even bother to do your research into the people you choose to employ in the first place. If that Daily Mail article was the first time that recruiters from L’Oréal had heard about Munroe’s opinions on race, they need to start firing people in line with their crooked company ethics.
White privilege is so pervasive that even when it comes to calling out racism, people of colour who are public figures are given less leeway than our white counterparts. Since Charlottesville, where 35-year-old Heather Heyer was mowed down by a white supremacist, celebrities such as Lorde (“all white people are responsible for this system’s thrive and fall. we have to do better”) and Miley Cyrus (“If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention”) have (mainly) managed to swerve the negative attentions of the media. Their careers haven’t been affected.
There is a clear double standard, and the only positive thing to come out of this whole mess has been the instant rallying of support around Munroe from fellow women of colour, non-binary people of colour and our allies. We will continue to support Munroe and challenge and boycott companies like L’Oréal Paris UK.