Pioneering Model Munroe Bergdorf Wants Us to Reckon with Racist History

Munroe Bergdorf, the first black trans woman signed to a major makeup campaign, was fired after decrying the neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville. She tells Broadly about her 2018 plans to use her platform to continue fighting racism.
December 27, 2017, 5:21pm

You Know Who Rules? is Broadly's December interview series highlighting women and non-binary people who accomplished incredible things during the dumpster fire of a year that was 2017.

Munroe Bergdorf is a British DJ, activist, and model who was cast for L'Oréal’s "True Match" foundation campaign this past August, making her the first ever black trans woman to represent the legacy makeup company.

This historic first was extremely short-lived. After her casting announcement, Bergdorf came under attack for her previous Facebook posts decrying the neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. In her post, Bergdorf wrote, "Honestly, I don’t have energy to talk about the racial violence of white people anymore. Yes ALL white people… Your entire existence is drenched in racism."

Many of Bergdorf’s comments were presented out of context and unsurprisingly, the internet did not take well to her academically-backed constructivist reading of racial history. Immediately following the release of her previous statements, Bergdorf was subject to racist and transphobic online harassment and shortly afterwards, L'Oréal dropped her from the campaign.

In an essay for Broadly published shortly after the scandal, Bergdorf wrote, "I believe that if we want to find a way out of the situation we're in, we need to be vocal about the history that got us here, which includes everything from slavery to colonization to segregation." Broadly spoke with the pioneering model about her past year and how she plans to take her newfound platform for racial equality to the next level in 2018.

BROADLY: What are you most proud of doing this past year?
MUNROE BERGDORF: Professionally, there have been so many amazing things that I've been lucky enough to experience in 2017. It's hard to pick just one. Speaking in the House of Commons was pretty amazing. To be a queer trans woman of color, speaking about my career and resilience in such a notoriously white cisgender heterosexual institution was an amazing feeling.

On a personal level, I'm proud of myself that I held my head high in the midst of so much hate. I don't think that there's preparing anybody for what it feels like to be in the midst of a media scandal. It's terrifying. So I'm just proud that I stayed true to myself, spoke my truth, and I'm glad that in the end people understood my side of the story.

"I'm just proud that I stayed true to myself, spoke my truth, and I'm glad that in the end people understood my side of the story."

You made headlines for accurately pointing out the systemic racial inequality that exists today and in response, people were awful towards you. How did it feel to be made the center of this discussion?
It was incredibly difficult and extremely draining. But the more the right wing media reported my words out of context and painted me as someone who I wasn't, the more fuel it gave me to stand up for myself and other people who feel the same way I do.

I removed myself from Facebook so I didn't see a lot of what people were saying on a personal level, but I got the gist of it from the comments left on my Instagram and mentions on Twitter. It was brutal. That people could get it so wrong was scary. But those negative reactions we're exactly what I was speaking about. They only proved my point.

Right now I'm in a really good place. I have an amazingly close knit friendship group and my family are very supportive. Being recognized all the time in public has taken some getting used to, but it's always been positive.

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What issues do you think society as a whole needs to come to terms with and what ways would you suggest we fix these problems?
I think Britain especially needs to start facing up to how brutal our colonialist past was. We need to start an honest discussion and what happened then, so we can find some real resolve to what's going on now. This society was built on white supremacist foundations. To suggest that white privilege isn't real when society—the British Empire and government—are all rooted in the oppression of people of color is a bit short sighted.

Over the past year, have you seen anything that brings you hope?
Absolutely, I've received so many messages, especially from white people, saying that what happened to me and what I've said in videos has opened their eyes to a new way of thinking. I know that when it comes to prejudice and bias a lot of it is unconscious. A lot of the work that I do is trying to wake people up to make those first steps to thinking outside their own echo-chamber.

What comes next for you?
I’ve got a lot in the works, I don't want to give away too much but 2018 is going to be all about taking the platform I was given to the next level. I want to spend more time in America also.

Charity work is also hugely important to me, I'm looking forward to working with a charity called Mermaids, who are dedicated to helping transgender kids and their families.