L’Oréal’s recent layoff sends a telling message about white supremacy

Hurricane Harvey has wrecked a lot of folks, but like Hurricane Katrina, those who are Black, brown, undocumented, poor, trans, and/or queer are heavily impacted.

Visual artist Shing Yin Khor — the artist responsible for the beloved Resistance Auntie — raised $1,000 to help those affected by Harvey through her art. Similarly, Asiey Barbie raised $730 with her livestream for Harvey. Khor and Barbie inspired me to see how I could use my skills to raise money for those affected by Hurricane Harvey, so I decided to write and edit in exchange for donations.

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Munroe Bergdorf / Twitter.com [IMAGE DESCRIPTION: A light skinned Black woman with blond braids wears a strapless pink dress, looking over her left shoulder]

One day Munroe Bergdorf — a beautiful Black trans woman DJ and activist featured in a recent L’Oréal Paris ad — is interviewed for Vogue and the next she is fired for speaking out against white supremacy. What happened? Allure covers the details and Dazed summarizes the outpouring of support, but let’s delve deeper into the capitalism, white supremacy, and white fragility that led to this decision.

Following a Facebook post by Bergdorf on the recent events in Charlottesville, L’Oréal Paris UK released a statement on Twitter:

“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.”

Whether L’Oréal Paris realizes it or not, Bergdorf was not lying. Both the United States and the U.K. have inherited a monetary advantage as the result of white settler colonialism and imperialism. As such, we are all socialized into thinking that whiteness is inherently better. Giving the heads of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at big companies a run for their money, Bergdorf took to Facebook to respond, delivering some free advice:

“If you truly want equality and diversity, you need to actively work to dismantle the source of what created this discrimination and division in the first place. You cannot just simply cash in because you’ve realised there’s a hole in the market and that there is money to be made from people of colour who have darker skin tones.”

What is happening to Bergdorf is not new and it will not end anytime soon. In a time where white people wield tiki torches in the name of white supremacy and the media compliments neonazis on their “dapper” style, we must reckon with the fact that white supremacy and capitalism enable each other. We could ignore how a certain President has still yet to denounce KKK endorsements. We could even try to ignore the fact that this country was literally built on stolen land with stolen people and nonconsensual labor.

We’ve been ignoring them for long enough, so what’s a little longer? These events have already happened, so maybe that’s how we trick ourselves into ignoring them. But if we are going to be delusional about the past, the least we do is be proactive about the future. If we #TheResistance is ever to succeed, more people need to recognize how inextricably linked capitalism is to white supremacy.When you can see examples from the presidency down to the beauty industry, it is clear that there is a problem.

Looking back, makeup brands have strategically shut out women of color since their inception, particularly women with darker skin tones. This is not news, nor should it come as a surprise, as film was also built for white people. So in an effort to “champion diversity,” and potentially even make up for years of anti-Blackness, L’Oréal Paris casts a Black woman in their YoursTruly True Match diversity campaign.

Where they took a “risk” on her braids, they were rewarded by the potential of kudos by hiring a Black woman who is perceived as not “too Black” due to her lighter complexion. We know by now that dark skinned Black women are villainized, even when they’re FLOTUS. Where they took a risk in hiring a Black woman for a historically white company, the benefit was the accolades they would receive from GLAAD and mainstream media for hiring a Black trans woman, as opposed to a Black cis woman.

And every risk in the art of moneymaking is calculated. There is a reason that there has been a lack of Black woman and woman of color representation among these companies, as outlined earlier. It is clear that a historically white brand wanted to build off of the popular trends set by brands like Covergirl (Zendaya, Janelle Monae, Queen Latifah) and a cultural moment where trans is “in” (Laverne Cox, Janet Mock, Amiyah Scott).

Yet the reality is that as much as makeup companies include more shade, designers send Black bodies strutting down runways, and trans women star in beauty campaigns, these moments of “representation” are rooted in profit and trend. These companies are not advocating for the end of white supremacy or telling people to stop killing trans women, they’re merely lining their pockets and using non-white and non-cis bodies as tokens.

Trans women of color are still being murdered at alarming rates, Black people are still fighting for our humanity, Indigenous people are still constantly erased, and disabled people are consistently an afterthought. So when Monroe Bergdorf, a Black trans woman, speaks on her experience is let go because it is against a company’s values, that’s all we need to know.

Searching Bergdorf’s name on twitter brings up more support than expected, but there are also plenty of tweets that say people would boycott the brand until Bergdorf is fired for her comments. If it don’t make dollars, it don’t make sense, and if our bodies don’t make them dollars, they definitely won’t give us cents.

If you learned something or if this essay moved you, do me a favor and make it clap as many times as you’d like (it’s a way of showing that you liked the work). Thank you. And for more information on terms like cisgender, feel free to read here:

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