America’s chickens are arguably coming home to roost—a centuries-old phrase famously used by Malcolm X as he predicted a reckoning with this country’s deeply ingrained and institutional racism. And in a moment that echoes the impact of the advent of the #MeToo movement, the fashion and beauty industries are not immune. Amid accusations of performative solidarity, many are being forced to reexamine their missteps and previous stances on race as consumers demand a clear and unwavering response to this racial crisis.
For industry leader L’Oréal, it’s become a full-circle moment and an opportunity to right a very public wrong. In 2017, the brand hired—and then just as quickly fired—its first transgender ambassador, model-activist Munroe Bergdorf, after Bergdorf frankly discussed racism in the aftermath of the events in Charlottesville, Va. Bergdorf posited that “all white people are racist” in a reference to implicit bias when she said: “Because most of y’all don’t even realize or refuse to acknowledge that your existence, privilege and success as a race is built on the backs, blood and death of people of color.”
At the time, the brand disavowed Bergdorf’s assertion, stating that her words were “at odds with [their] values” as they dismissed her from what had been a groundbreaking role. Nevertheless, last week, the brand was unsurprisingly among many showing public support for Black Live Matter amid recent uprisings, posting the phrase “speaking out is worth it.” Bergdorf was quick to call out the irony, given her own humiliation by the brand.
“I had to fend for myself being torn apart by the world’s press because YOU didn’t want to talk about racism,” she tweeted. “You do NOT get to do this. This is NOT okay, not even in the slightest.”
However, on Tuesday Bergdorf had a new announcement: she would be returning to work with L’Oréal Paris after a discussion with Brand President Delphine Viguier, who was appointed in 2019. Accounts of both sides of the conversation were posted to Loréal Paris’ social media Tuesday, confirming that Bergdorf would be reuniting with the brand as a member of its newly formed UK Diversity & Inclusion Advisory Board in a caption written by Viguier herself, which read:
“I had an honest, transparent and vulnerable conversation with Munroe Bergdorf. We listened to each other and shared our feelings and perspectives on the situation with open hearts and minds. It was a powerful moment of human connection.
Here is what I heard from her: 3 years ago, Munroe felt silenced by a brand, L’Oréal Paris, that had the power to amplify her voice. While we both agree today that negative labels should not be used to define all individuals in any group, I understand much better the pain and trauma that were behind Munroe’s words back then and the urgency she felt to speak in defense of the Black community against systemic racism. I regret the lack of dialogue and support the company showed Munroe around the time of the termination. We should have also done more to create a conversation for change as we are now doing.
We support Munroe’s fight against systemic racism and as a company we are committed to work to dismantle such systems.
Here is how we will move forward: As we stand united in our advocacy against all forms of racism, we will take action together. The L’Oréal Group is forming a UK Diversity & Inclusion Advisory Board of voices inside and outside the company, who will influence and inform our action plan. I have invited Munroe to participate on this Board and thank her for graciously accepting. We will honor Munroe’s advocacy for both the Trans and Black communities. L’Oréal will be donating to associations that support social justice and causes that are deeply personal to Munroe’s experience. Speaking out is worth it, only if we are able to listen, learn and grow.
We all want to contribute to a society in which everyone can live safely, peacefully and equally, and that begins with repairing relationships and moving forward together. I thank @munroebergdorf for her willingness to do this.”
Bergdorf’s statement was included in L’Oréal’s post, but she thanked her supporters directly in a separate post, writing:
“Thank you everyone for having my back with this matter over the past three years, it hasn’t been easy. Looking forward to new beginnings and a new positive relationship with the L’Oréal team.”
Excitingly, L’Oréal is also putting some money behind its platitudes; Bergdorf also announced that the company had agreed to donate €25,000 to equality advocacy organizations Mermaids and another €25,000 to UK Black Pride.
But of course, no good deed goes unpunished—and as usual, perpetrators seek out what they proceed the most vulnerable target. After suffering untold abuse in the aftermath of the original conflict with L’Oréal, Bergdorf reports receiving a fresh onslaught in the face of her announcement of rejoining the brand. As an advocate and activist, no doubt Bergdorf is well-equipped to handle the trolls but to paraphrase her now-prodigal partner, we hope it’s worth it.