This morning, L’Oreal dropped Munroe Bergdorf, their first ever trans model, from their diversity campaign after a media storm which has seen her since branded as “anti-white” for statements that she made concerning the complicity of white people in widespread racism.
This entire episode, and in particular L’Oreal’s tone deaf response and failure to back Munroe, is part of a long media tradition of painting anti-racism activists, and particularly black women, as irrational anti-white furies. The exact same thing happened to Cambridge BME Society Campaigner Jason Osamede Okundaye when he made similarly cogent points about racial prejudice.
The ensuing backlash around her statements and her consequent firing continue to create the sort of conditions in which there is a greater material consequence for speaking out against racism than actual racist rhetoric.
These right wing media attacks form part of an increasingly popular cycle of demonisation, where statements about racism and its structural and all-pervasive nature are decontextualised, interpreted in entirely bad faith and branded as “anti-white rants” that are then used to form the crux of a witch-hunt and facilitate twitter pile-ons and racist abuse.
But the fact remains that Munroe’s statements were not and did not constitute a racist “rant.” To suggest that all white people, and all people in general regardless of gender or creed, internalise the oppressive rhetoric and paradigms that dominate our society should be taken as a given.
We are socialised under white supremacy and patriarchy from birth. What she said is factual. Individual exceptionalism cannot absolve you of complicity in racist systems that function on a widespread structural level, one that requires the complicity of all the people that benefit from the system, and even in some ways minorities who do not.
People who bill themselves as progressives, and particularly white people who consider themselves progressives, need to ask themselves why their knee-jerk reaction to being called complicit in structural racism is to demand that the person of colour that did so loses their livelihood.
They should ask themselves whether or not this knee-jerk reaction might contribute to the silencing of the very people of colour who are working to dismantle racism.
People need to put aside their hurt feelings and fragility when they are told the ways in which they benefit from and are complicit in a racist society, and focus on tackling these system racial injustices, rather than shooting the messenger.
There is a painful irony in the right wing media’s paradoxical obsession with protecting hate speech and dehumanising alt-right rhetoric, while orchestrating vicious takedowns of young, up and coming people of colour who dare be vocal about their plight in a white supremacist society.
Campaigns like L’Oreal’s exercise in “diversity” are ultimately nothing but empty rhetoric and bandwagoning of the most unforgivable kind. They are actively contributing to the silencing of anti-racism activists. They wanted Munroe’s transness, her blackness, her womanhood and all of the glory and the capital gain of her “diversity” with none of the corollary activism and resistance that comes with her identity: the necessarily trappings of a woman as vocal about racism and marginalisation as she is.
She was “worth it” until she dared speak out about racism. They wanted her cool and the aesthetics of her identity, but have no desire to challenge the very structures and practices that constantly threaten that identity.
Munroe is not the first trailblazer to lose out on opportunities for calling out the insidious ways that racism functions, and she will certainly not be the last. L’Oreal have acted particularly cowardly and shown us their true colours, and they must be held accountable for their lip-service to diversity and failure to do anything but uphold the status quo.
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