If you’ve been living under a rock this past week and haven’t heard about the controversy stemming from transgender model Munroe Bergdorf’s comments on racism, we’re here to help. First looking at who she is, and then what it is she said, we explore why exactly her words shouldn’t offend you.
Who is Munroe Bergdorf?
Munroe Bergdorf is a 30 year old black transgender model, DJ and activist. She’s also part of the creative team who run Pxssy Palace which is an all female run club night who specifically cater to the LGBT community. In August of this year, Munroe became the first transgender model to join L’Oréal’s diversity campaign. L’Oréal’s “True Match” foundation aimed to match a wider range of skin tones than previously offered. Munroe was at the forefront of this campaign posing with the likes of L’Oréal’s poster girl, singer Cheryl. The brand received a massive amount of positive press from Munroe’s addition to this seemingly pioneering diversity campaign too.
What did Munroe actually say?
In a lengthy Facebook rant after the terrorist rally led by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Munroe Bergdorf stated that all white people are responsible for racial violence. She illustrated how white privilege is ingrained in the very fabric of our society and how white people have achieved their success and privileges on the backs of People of Colour. Munroe continued by stressing the need for Black History to be a staple module in schools instead of merely an elective choice. She depicted the reality of how white washed the education system is in terms of the syllabus options they offer to students. Her post has since been deleted by Facebook on the grounds of being labelled as “hate speech”.
What was the general critique on her comments?
What followed after Munroe’s Facebook rant was the Daily Mail taking snippets of her social media statement and labelling it as an “extraordinary Facebook rant”. In an interview with The Guardian, Munroe details the events following her Facebook commentary. “She was shopping on Thursday afternoon when L’Oréal called her about the story the Daily Mail said it was going to publish. “I kept explaining the context and the full post and they wouldn’t listen.” Following this, L’Oréal posted a tweet declaring their intention to end their partnership with her.
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’s own mother, who is white and an avid reader of the Daily Mail, was offended by her comments. Viewing herself as a non-racist white person she believed that she should have been excluded from the general narrative of all white people perpetuating racism. Piers Morgan, also a Daily Mail contributor, was particularly outraged by her comments and criticised her on Good Morning Britain for stating that all white people are racist. He believed that she should have only commented on the need for more historical knowledge about People of Colour to be taught in schools.
Why you shouldn’t be offended
Munroe Bergdof’s comments were basic racial theory 101. Her Facebook post was a very nuanced dismantling of institutional racism and white supremacy in response to the horrors of Charlottesville. Munroe was right. We have been socialised in a society where white people have obvious advantages solely based on the colour of their skin. Copious amounts of research has shown that white people are more likely to be paid more, receive a better education and better healthcare than People of Colour are.
In fact, the irony of Munroe being fired from a campaign championing diversity, for speaking about issues of which she’s passionate, truly speaks to how much ignorance there still is about racism. L’Oréal were perfectly content to receive positive press and promotion on the back of Munroe’s name and yet they were exceptionally quick to discard her as an ambassador when she spoke on issues that directly affected her.
It’s important to note that Munroe has always been an outspoken activist on the numerous issues that affect her as a black trans woman. Important once more is the fact that Munroe is not the only one to have ever found herself in a media storm. L’Oreal’s now key ambassador, Cheryl was found guilty of assaulting a black nightclub toilet attendant back in ’03. Recalling this incident during a Channel 4 interview was met with the question “doesn’t she [Cheryl] deserve a second chance?”. “Oh, classic white privilege” we hear you say, with your firm grip on reality. “YoU cAN HaRDLy ComPaRE tHE TWo”, chant those in denial. But unfortunately you can.
Ultimately, It would appear that L’Oreal’s ethics are selective with those they find conflict with. Even if we were to switch off our brains for a second and find offence in the words that severed Munroe’s partnership with the brand, we’d still be left searching for that second chance we all apparently deserve.