Last week Munroe Bergdorf was fired by L’Oréal after a Facebook “rant” on racism.
You can read about it here.
There are so many points of entry into this issue for me, but I’ll focus on two today.
Who is ranting?
First. The definition of a rant is to “speak or shout at length in a wildly impassioned way.” Hard to say if someone is ranting in writing, but we all impose our own hearing of someone’s written word. But my question is: do we interpret posts the same way? Or does it depend on who is writing it?
As people of colour, tone policing is something that happens when White people (and light skinned people of colour) are uncomfortable with volume or passion in speech. I can relate to this. I’m biracial, and when my former partner would get passionate about an issue, her volume would rise and it took me a long time to recognize that she wasn’t shouting at me. It’s still something I have to work on.
A question for you to consider: what is the difference between hate speech and voicing frustration about centuries of inequity and discrimination at the hands of others because of who you are?
Racism is Real
Secondly. It intrigues me that a Person of Colour’s response to White supremacy and racism (the post was apparently written after the events in Charlottesville) is seen as undermining the values of diversity….
I don’t even know what to say about that, except that often White people have trouble being called out on racism. I get it. No one wants to be called a racist. We imagine slavery, cross burning, violence, and white sheets over heads. But here’s the thing: racism today is much more insidious because it’s built into the fabric of our society, which means we perpetuate it without even being aware. Munroe Bergdorf’s post points that out quite well. Which is not something most White people want to hear or admit. Because image what that means???
Everything in Bergdorf’s post is reality. Racism is real. It’s part of systems, societies, structures, and laws. It’s built into how we think of people – White people, Brown people and Black people. These experiences of racism are part of our DNA – as Black people, People of Colour, and I would imagine also as White people, because we are all swimming in the same soup. It’s just that the results of being steeped in racism are so vastly different: empowerment for White people and disempowerment for Black people and People of Colour.
Until we can recognize, talk about, and listen to the ways that racism impacts Black and racialized bodies in the world, we will not see each other, and we will continue to have an uphill battle to create real change and real inclusion. So L’Oréal ‘values diversity’. We can ‘value diversity’ all we want, but until those of us in dominant groups are prepared to see the reality of what it means to not be part of the dominant group, our complicity in perpetuating injustice, inequity, and devaluing of others, and the cost of our privilege on others; until we commit to challenging and dismantling the systems that keep these inequities in place (and people “in their place”), ‘valuing diversity’ is just lip service. ‘Valuing diversity’ is a statement that makes us feel better, while people continue to suffer and then are disciplined or silenced for naming their pain – and the source of it.
If we valued diversity, we would listen to ‘rants’ like this, take them seriously because they are showing pain, and work to fix the source of that pain.
This is what racism looks like…
Racism is about devaluing someone based on skin with more melanin. It’s a human-created belief used to subjugate, degrade, and break people. We have lived with it for so long, we often can’t even recognize it anymore. That’s how bad it is. Racism, in many cases, has become part of “the way it is” because it’s the lens through which we see people and situations.
And when People of Colour and Black people point out racism; point out what is real and experienced every day, and the frustration, exhaustion and pain that comes with living in a world where you are not seen – well, we are often silenced. That’s racism too.