Nearly years after Munroe Bergdorf was named the first transgender model to represent L’Oréal Paris U.K., only to be fired as a face of the brand days later for speaking her mind about racial violence carried out across the globe, the beauty brand has decided to backtrack on their stance.
In response to the neo-Nazi rallies held in August 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia, the British model had allegedly taken to Facebook to address the ways in which white supremacist ideologies form the pillars of western society. “Honestly I don’t have energy to talk about the racial violence of white people any more. Yes ALL white people…Because most of ya’ll 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… Come see me when you realise that racism isn’t learned, it’s inherited and consciously or unconsciously passed down through privilege.”
Bergdorf later clarified her position with another Facebook post. “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,” she wrote.
L’Oréal, which had just touted Bergdorf as a fresh face of a diversity initiative across the company, swiftly ended their campaign with the model days after announcing it. On Twitter, in the same sentence the brand claimed to “champion diversity” and said Bergdorf’s comments “are at odds with our values,” so they cut ties.
After the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, brands started making what they considered to be statements of solidarity on social media, and many people took note of which brands seemed to be making genuine strides towards anti-racist progress. It was only a matter of time before a global brand like L’Oréal Paris would have its turn. “I had to fend for myself being torn apart by the world’s press because YOU didn’t want to talk about racism. You do NOT get to do this. This is NOT okay, not even in the slightest,” Bergdorf wrote when she saw the brand’s Instagram post which riffed on its iconic tagline. “Speaking out is worth it,” the post read.
“I said yesterday that it would only be a matter of time before RACIST AF brands saw a window of PR Opportunity,” the model continued.
Now, in a moment when massive protests against police brutality and racism are happening around the world—and when so many are calling out brands and publications for their systemically racist hiring practices and unfair, unsafe environments—Bergdorf has given an update on social media, stating that she has finally found some closure on the matter with L’Oréal.
After speaking with Delphine Viguier the new president of L’Oréal Paris, Bergdorf found that the brand would pledge to donate €25,000 to Mermaids, a British charity that supports trans and gender variant youth, and another €25,000 to U.K. Black Pride.
The brand is estimated to be worth over 28 billion dollars, but pledges to donate 50,000 euros to two causes presumably chosen by Bergdorf. (For comparison’s sake, Glossier is valued at about a billion dollars, but pledged to donate a million dollars to various organizations fighting racial injustice, including Black Lives Matter, and is sharing resources for engagement on their social channels.)
L’Oréal also asked Bergdorf to serve on their U.K. Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Board, which she accepted. “I thought that it would be the perfect opportunity to practise what I preach and take up that seat at the table to be the representation that we deserve as a community,” she wrote. “I believe in accountability and progress, not cancellation and grudges. While what happened 3 years ago was extremely traumatic for me personally and professionally, sitting on a board to provide a voice and a champion for black, trans and queer voices in the beauty industry is important to me.”
The last time L’Oréal asked Bergdorf to be the face of the brand to send the message of diversity and inclusion across the company, they balked at her expression of pain after witnessing white supremacists rallying in Virginia, and cut her out in an instant. Many global brands have a history of conveniently propping up someone who has been marginalized for their identity to give the brand a little bit of positive promo, without doing the actual work to adjust and redistribute the power from the top down, only to turn their backs on them when it’s no longer convenient.
L’Oréal isn’t the first brand to take this step, either—Gucci tried a similar approach last year by developing a global diversity and inclusion initiative (and hiring Renée E. Tirado to be the head of the program) to address the backlash received when a sweater that some claimed evoked blackface.
Though it’s a step towards progress in terms of visibility, it’s not enough to just put people of marginalized experiences in beauty campaigns—there needs to be equality in terms of making sure those same people are present and involved at all levels of creative decision-making. Hopefully, this isn’t just another brand spinning a “window of PR opportunity” as Bergdorf put it. But at least we know that she pledges to hold them accountable.