In August of this year British DJ, activist and model, Munroe Bergdorf became the first openly transgendered person to appear in an L’Oréal Paris campaign. Bergdorf came on board as part of the #allworthit True Match foundation campaign, celebrating diversity and promoting five new foundation shades. It was a ground breaking moment for the trans community, as they fight for positive representation in the media.
Merely a few days later the Charlottesville White Supremacy rally occurred, in which several were injured, and Heather Heyer was killed after being struck by a car driven into the crowd of counterprotesters by a Neo-Nazi.
The event in Charlottesville, specifically the idea that Neo-Nazi’s are not just a disgusting breed of person unique to World War II, but amass in modern day society, saddened the world.
Upset with the state of affairs, people were turning to social media to voice their dismay. One of these people was Bergdorf. As a woman of colour Bergdorf took to Facebook to voice her upset.
“Honestly I don’t have energy to talk about the racial violence of white people any more. Yes ALL white people. Because most of ya’ll don’t even realise or refuse to acknowledge that your existence, privilege and success as a race is built on the backs, blood and deaths of people of colour. Your entire existence is drenched in racism. From micro-aggressions to terrorism, you guys built the blueprint for this shit.
Come see me when you realise that racism isn’t learned, it’s inherited and consciously or unconsciously passed down through privilege. Once white people begin to admit that their race is the most violent and oppressive force of nature on Earth… then we can talk. Until then stay acting shocked about how the world continues to stay fucked at the hands of your ancestors and your heads that remain buried in the sand with hands over your ears.”
Three words from Bergdorf’s post stuck out and caused mass backlash – “ALL white people”. These three words saw Bergdorf’s partnership with L’Oréal severed. As they stated that Bergdorf’s comments were “at odds with [their] values.”
As a white woman, I felt confronted when reading Bergdorf’s post. I felt confronted because I knew what she was saying was true.
Apologising and taking responsibility for historical (and sadly present day) wrong doings has been something that freaks white people the fuck out because it is acknowledging that it happened, that our country’s history, our history isn’t as sweet and cute as we’d like to believe (#colonialism). You can make the argument “well I didn’t do it, therefore why should I apologise for it?” (Sounds like something John Howard kicked and screamed the whole time he was Prime Minister). However, it was those actions of our ancestors that have resulted in our standing as the privileged race, regardless of direct responsibility, we live with the consequential benefit.
Activist and scholar, Peggy McIntosh discusses how these denials amount to taboos surround the subject, and protect white privilege from being fully recognized, acknowledged, lessened, or ended.
Our perception that indigenous, and black history is something to brush over sees those who do point it out or talk about it vilified for being reverse racist (because that’s totally a thing that exists) or unpatriotic. As Yassmin Abdel-Magied says, “It’s funny that freedom of speech doesn’t really apply to the truth.”
Abdel-Magied, an ABC journalist and general badass, felt the wrath of white people and patriots after posting to Facebook on Anzac Day this year “Lest. We. Forget. (Manus, Nauru, Syria, Palestine…)”. While extraordinarily controversial and maybe a little ill timed, Abdel-Magied’s post brought light to the notion that while it is important to commemorate Anzac’s who had fallen from war, war is a reality for many around the world – and Australia’s inhumane foreign policy keeps victims of war vulnerable. We should not forget them.
Like Bergdorf, Abdel-Magied fought immense backlash, death threats, rape threats, and calls to have her fired. Like Bergdorf, Abdel-Magied deleted her post. Like Bergdorf, Abdel-Magied was defending and fighting for the rights and voice of the unprivileged.
It is a fairly well known fact that people of colour have suffered at the hands of white people. Just look at any country’s colonialist history. I’m really not sorry if that’s offensive, because it’s a straight up fact that has been swept under the rug for the whole of human existence. The truth is confronting to some, and offensive to others, however it is necessary knowledge, and it remains the truth. It is important that we stop denying the past, take accountability, and seek social justice in order to see societal progress, and unity.