As brands navigate the choppy waters of communicating in the midst of widespread protests against racism and police brutality, some are learning that social media posts can go very wrong if they're seen as incongruous with the company's values and actions.
On Monday, L'Oréal Paris shared a post that read "speaking out is worth it" above a brand logo, along with a caption that read: "L'Oréal Paris stands in solidarity with the Black community, and against injustice of any kind. We are making a commitment to the @naacp to support progress in the fight for justice. #BlackLivesMatter."
But Munroe Bergdorf, a model whose contract with L'Oréal was canceled in 2017 after she spoke out about racism in the wake of a neo-Nazi rally, was quick to remind followers of her own experience with the brand just three years ago.
"You dropped me from a campaign in 2017 and threw me to the wolves for speaking out about racism and white supremacy. With no duty of care, without a second thought," she posted on Twitter. "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 has shared in the past that the media hubbub around the fallout with L'Oréal in 2017 resulted in her receiving rape and death threats. She's also noted on other occasions that on the set for the True Match campaign that she was supposed to be a part of before her contract was canceled, the makeup artist had to use another brand because L'Oréal didn't carry the right shade for Bergdorf's skin.
And though Bergdorf did not say anything about it, it's worth noting that L'Oréal has nowhere clarified what commitment, exactly, it has made to the NAACP. (Fashionista has reached out to the company for comment and will update if L'Oréal responds.)
"I said yesterday that it would only be a matter of time before RACIST AF brands saw a window of PR Opportunity. Fuck you. Fuck your 'solidarity'. Where was my support when I spoke out?" she tweeted.
Bergdorf's followers quickly rallied around her, with many pledging to boycott the brand and petitioning for it to apologize to her. Meanwhile, L'Oréal took to Instagram again the next day to post a black square to its grid with the hashtag #blackouttuesday, participating in the Black Out Tuesday initiative that many are calling counter-productive in the effort to stand with Black activists and protestors.
Still, Bergdorf seemed heartened by the response of her followers, if not that of the brand.
"I'm not holding my breath for an apology, it's been three years, but thank you to whoever has set up the petitions, it means a lot," she shared. "Love you all. Stay safe."
UPDATE, June 9, 2020: On Tuesday, Munroe Bergdorf posted to social media that she had spoken with L'Oréal Paris president Delphine Viguier about the situation and thanked her supporters "for having my back with this matter over the past three years, it hasn't been easy."
Her full statement can be found below.
This week, I spoke with 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. Shortly L'Oréal will release a statement on their plans to make a charitable donation of €25,000 to @mermaidsgender, supporting gender-varient and transgender youth in the UK, and €25,000 to @ukblackpride, an annual safe space to celebrate diverse sexualities, gender identities, cultures, gender expressions and backgrounds.
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."
So when L'Oréal offered me a consultancy role, to sit on their UK Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Board, helping to influence and inform the brand, 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. 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.
It feels good to finally have closure on this matter and I look forward to new beginnings with the L'Oréal team. Thank you to everyone who has had my back this past week, I appreciate it massively, especially my friends @jameelajamilofficial and @duckiethot who have been there for me 24/7 from start to finish.
Over the past three years I have realized my responsibility as an activist 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.