Model Munroe Bergdorf “The Face of Diversity” fired for pointing out racism
Laura Melczer // Contributor
L’Oreal UK announced hiring Munroe Bergdorf as its first black trans model on Aug. 28. When most media images are still exclusively of white women, hiring a model that is black and trans was a move that could shift the modeling industry. For an international beauty company to start including racially diverse and trans models allows folks to see versions of themselves in a positive light. To have a black, trans model represent such a large brand created a hope that media could start to challenge the status quo. We should be able to see images that showcase the beauty of all people, which models like Munroe Bergdorf are helping to do.
That is why it was extremely discouraging to hear that Munroe Bergdorf had been fired on September 1, only four days after she was hired for L’Oreal UK’s True Match diversity campaign. According to The Guardian, Bergdorf was fired over a Facebook post taken out of context that she wrote about the Charlottesville Riots.
L’Oreal shouldn’t have fired Bergdorf over this. As an activist and P.O.C. (person of colour), in today’s environment and Donald Trump’s America where discussions on race are widespread, it is only natural for someone to express their view. We need people to stand up and create change, which is often done by stating the things those in places of power don’t want to listen to. It’s unpleasant to hear that white people’s behaviour is racist, whether it is on purpose or not. But people need to talk about the ways our world is still based on white people’s privilege. Just as society needs to be held accountable for the ways in which it upholds other forms of privilege and bigotry.
Bergdorf was bringing forward a point that white privilege and racism are still predominant today. Making an observation that racism still exists should not be a reason why a person gets fired. Especially when she was hired specifically for a campaign about diversity for L’Oreal. It sets a precedent that silences the exact voices we need to hear in regard to race issues. Our society needs to dismantle racism and the racist structures that still strongly permeate our everyday life. And by firing an activist from such an influential and large company, it counters the efforts to increase the voice and power of P.O.C.
Munroe Bergdorf was using her role and her voice to call out the racist systems that are still in place and should be congratulated, and it definitely should not have gotten her fired. The way in which race has played into the L’Oreal Diversity Campaign, and how it got Bergdorf fired, has larger social implications. It becomes a way to understand how there are still organizations in place to keep people quiet. In this context, it feels like instead of true, meaningful change, a person who tries to speak up will have their comments taken out of context, fired, and forced to stay in place.
Anti-racist allies need to work to create environments that allow the voices of P.O.C. folks to break through, be respected and fully listened to no matter how painful it might be to hear. Taking critiques like Bergdorf’s out of context belittles the concerns of marginalized voices, and leads to situations where people are reprimanded for raising valid concerns in the fight for equality and justice.