As we reflect on the impact of the past week’s protests and #BlackoutTuesday, it might be considered as much a social experiment as a social justice movement. While prompted by black women in the music industry, scores of individuals and other industries quickly followed suit, prompting many a side-eye as some who’d previously remained silent, passive or even opposition to issues of racial justice posted black squares and statements of solidarity.
One such brand was L’Oréal Paris, which, while being one of the first mainstream brands to break the gender binary in its advertising, proved to have a far less progressive stance when it came to honestly and openly addressing race. In 2017, the brand made headlines when it cast its first transgender model, activist Munroe Bergdorf, in its 2017 #AllWorthIt U.K. campaign. But within days, it made headlines again when it fired Bergdorf for speaking frankly about racism in a social media post which read, in part:
Honestly I don’t have energy to talk about the racial violence of white people anymore. Yes ALL white people...Because most of y’all 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. Your entire existence is drenched in racism. From micro-aggressions to terrorism, you guys built the blueprint for this shit.
L’Oréal instantly dismissed Munroe, tweeting a statement which claimed to support diversity but deemed her “at odds with [their] values.”
“Because nothing screams ‘performative allyship’ like dropping a black trans woman from your beauty campaigns for daring to call out racism and white supremacy,” wrote The Root’s Monique Judge at the time.
Perhaps the brand has since recognized at least some of the truth in Bergdorf’s words—or, maybe they just realized silence wasn’t an option in this moment of racial crisis. As social media increasingly became devoted to statements supporting black lives, L’Oréal issued its own via Instagram, accompanying a visual which read: “Speaking out is worth it.”
L’Oréal Paris stands in solidarity with the Black community, and against injustice of any kind. We are making a commitment to the @naacp to support progress in the fight for justice. #BlackLivesMatter
Understandably, Bergdorf was not having it. And because speaking out is worth it, she called out the brand in a blistering retort on Monday:
Excuse my language but I am SO angry. FUCK YOU @lorealparis. You dropped me from a campaign in 2017 and threw me to the wolves for speaking out about racism and white supremacy.
With no duty of care, without a second thought. I had to fend for myself being torn apart by the world’s press because YOU didn’t want to talk about racism. You even tried to get me to incriminate myself with pairing me up with your shady lawyers, when I had done NOTHING wrong. THAT is what you get for ‘speaking out’ when employed by @lorealparis. Racist snakes.
You do NOT get to do this. This is NOT okay, not even in the slightest.
I said just yesterday that it would only be a matter of time before RACIST AF brands saw a window of PR opportunity to jump on the bandwagon.
Fuck you. Fuck your ‘solidarity’. Where was my support when I spoke out? Where was my apology? I’m disgusted and writing this in floods of tears and shaking. This is gaslighting.
Bergdorf’s comments rightly garnered an outpouring of support on social media. As reported by Page Six, at least one commenter had a suggestion for how L’Oréal, which has long held the goodwill of beauty consumers due to its multiracial campaigns and full-spectrum offerings, could put some substantive action behind their public statements:
Well then I guess it’s about time you issued a long overdue public apology to Munroe Bergdorf AND compensated her for the trauma you caused. This is hollow unless you admit that you’ve used black women as props to show how many foundation shades you have but you certainly haven’t supported, stood in solidarity or spoken out for them before.
L’Oréal, which currently counts Viola Davis as one of its U.S. brand ambassadors, has yet to issue a public response or an apology to Bergdorf. Instead, the brand joined others in posting a black box to its Instagram feed in honor of #BlackTuesday, offering no further words than the hashtag itself. As for Bergdorf, she admits the revival of the issue has been triggering.