Munroe Bergdorf joins L'Oréal's diversity board

Photo credit: L'Oreal Paris
Photo credit: L'Oreal Paris

From Harper's BAZAAR

The activist Munroe Bergdorf has agreed to join L'Oréal's new diversity and inclusion board, bringing her feud with the brand to a close in an effort to make real change in the fight against racist discrimination.

The appointment calls time on a chapter of tension that started when Bergdorf was let go as a L'Oréal ambassador in 2017, for calling out white supremacy in the aftermath of the Charlottesville Unite the Right rally.

Her suggestion that "ALL white people" are responsible for "racial violence" prompted backlash - but could have been an important discussion starter about privilege if it had been handled differently.

Bergdorf, who was the first ever transgender spokesperson for L'Oréal, also spoke out against the company's "gaslighting" show of support for the Black Lives Matter movement, particularly the wording of its Instagram post, "Speaking Out is Worth It".

"You dropped me from a campaign in 2017 and threw me to the wolves for speaking out about racism and white supremacy," she said. "That is what you get for 'speaking out'."

"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."

The creation of (and Bergdorf's inclusion on) the company's new advisory board indicates an important reassessment by the brand and is perhaps a direct response to Bergdorf's statement: "If you want to stand with Black Lives Matter then get your own house in order first... Speaking out can’t only be “worth it” when you’re white. Black voices matter."

In a post on Instagram announcing her new involvement with L'Oréal, Bergdorf said.

"This week, I spoke to L'Oréal Paris new president Delphine Viguier, who reached out to me directly. We had an open and constructive conversation, she listened to what I had to say and expressed her regret for how the situation was handled three years ago."

"As an activist, part of my work is to encourage big businesses to understand their responsibility with regards to diversity and inclusion. It’s imperative that, in all industries, a wide range of people from different backgrounds and experiences are in the room at all levels and in decision-making roles, to reduce oversight and to create a product that is built with all people in mind."

"Over the past three years, I have realized my responsibility as an activist is to help to unite us as people, regardless of our identity. We are all in an exciting time of change. I hope this reconciliation is proof that we can all find a way to put aside our differences and work together to push for a more progressive, fair and equal world."

Bergdorf accompanied her statement with a message of thanks to everyone who has supported her over the past three years and expressed her hope for a fairer future, saying that she was "looking forward to new beginnings and a new positive relationship with the L'Oréal team".

L'Oréal Paris, which will also be donating almost £45,000 to LGBT+ charities (Mermaids and UK Black Pride), released a complementary statement from its brand president Delphine Viguier:

“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.”

Hopefully this means lasting change, not only within the L'Oréal Group itself but for the wider beauty industry, in overcoming racial prejudice.

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