It’s been a year since I last heard of Leandra Medine, founder of the now-defunct media platform Man Repeller. But that was until designer, Recho Omondi, invited her on her podcast The Cutting Room Floor. One long hour and a half, the episode was initially about what Leandra Medine learned after shutting down Man Repeller following the backlash provoked by the dismissal of MR Events Manager, Crystal Anderson. It is crucial to mention Crystal is a Black woman (as well as Recho) because after I finished listening to the episode, I felt the urge to talk about it with other Black women. I saw a exemplary dialogue that embodied the behavior of many white women I met in my fashion career. With ATPB contributors, Amanda Winnie Kabuiku and Debra Brown, we unpacked our feelings and thoughts about it.
Part 2 of their conversation is now up on Patreon.
What were your thoughts after listening to that episode?
Debra Brown: By the end of it, I realized I had been listening to a white woman’s delusions for more than an hour. And, I know that is commonplace. But to have it upfront in my face like that made me angry and upset. Do you remember that piece she wrote when Beyoncé announced her pregnancy with twins? At the time, she was struggling with IVF and said Beyoncé was showing off, but she also ended up having twins after. People dragged her for that. And that’s the type of person she is. She turns everything into self-reflection, yet it doesn’t come from a place where she can learn from it and progress. It’s simply self-reflection to muse about her delusions.
Emmanuelle Maréchal: I was still processing what was the goal of the podcast episode. I expected her to talk about why MR shut down, the Crystal situation, and what she learned from it. But not even 20 minutes of the interview was about it. And then she started talking about her life, and quite frankly, I didn’t care. I read MR for the writers of color she brought in, and to be honest, I wasn’t that interested in her writing. There was a section on the site that always bugged me. It was about that Parisian white woman living in New York that ticked all the boxes of the perfect stereotype of the Parisian woman. I didn’t know why I had to read a cliché’d white French woman talking about femininity, love, and everything about French women when we are so diverse.
Amanda Winnie Kabuiku: As a Black French person, I always navigate these personalities, so I am used to it. It’s not something new for me. When I heard her, I realized she thought of herself as a victim. She created a space in which she felt she had all the problems of the world. And that was so fascinating to hear. When Leandra mentioned she thought she was ‘almost homeless,’ I wondered if she was almost homeless or if it was the case because she lived in a tiny flat and didn’t know how to make ends meet.
What was your opinion on Recho’s behavior towards Leandra during the whole episode?
Amanda Winnie Kabuiku: I loved Recho’s stance. It felt she was a weak interviewer, but she chose to say nothing because Recho knew she would be defensive if she challenged her. So she didn’t speak to let her have her say for people to realize she is a manipulative person. People aren’t stupid. They will understand what she is saying is problematic.
She compared Black trauma with Jewish trauma, which are two separate things. Yet, Recho never mentioned her Jewishness in the conversation, like she never let her Blackness in the conversation. Perceiving this is crucial because Recho stayed calm and listened to her. Meanwhile, Leandra reignited traumas with everything she said when no one asked her.
Emmanuelle Maréchal: I wondered how Recho kept it all together. I don’t think it was necessary confronting Leandra as the interview was pretty much self-explanatory. If she did, she would have been defensive, like you said, Amanda.
Debra Brown: She opened the episode saying that they’ve been trying to put things together for so long because it was so tiring. And I can imagine how exhausting going through those recordings was.
What did you think about Leandra describing herself as a bad leader?
Debra Brown: Do you think Amelia and Harling will say Leandra is a bad leader or is it just these black women she worked with saying it?
Amanda Winnie Kabuiku: I don’t think so! Remember when Recho asked her about her best time at MR? She said when it was her and three other white women at the beginning of MR.
She turned MR into a successful company before she turned 30, yet she was the one crying over the phone when she was firing a black woman in a pandemic. It is not bad leadership; it is manipulation. She used tears to avoid any unpleasant discussion. She knew she did something unfair.
Emmanuelle Maréchal: Oh yes, I remember it, it was as if she was saying she was happy when whiteness was there, but as soon as blackness came in, she didn’t enjoy it as much because it brought mess.
Debra Brown: Black people listening to this interview will see through everything. She thinks she’s redeeming herself when speaking. But we all know. We don’t even need to note a particular story of what she has done to these black women.
Leandra is an example right now of what happens to black women in the workplace. So we all know she is not the problem, but she is part of it. She is made accountable because she benefits from white supremacy, white privilege, and white womanhood.
Do you think this conversation will benefit white people?
Debra Brown: I don’t think white people would draw what they need to from it. I don’t think they will have the same visceral response that we had listening to it. The annoyance, the frustration we felt listening to this, I don’t think without them reading about people’s reactions to it, they would understand.
Emmanuelle Maréchal: That’s why I wanted to have that conversation because I thought it was important people understand how black people felt after listening to the episode. I also wanted to unpack on the opening and closing comments of Recho [that have now been edited out] because they provoked anger and accusations of antisemitism. And in my opinion, though they were valid, it gave some people a reason not to address that there needs to be a conversation about Jewishness, its proximity to whiteness, and anti-blackness in the Jewish community. It felt like some of them don’t see themselves as white but just Jewish. I am currently reading When We Were Arabs: A Jewish Family’s Forgotten History by Massoud Hayoun, which is helping me understand better how diverse and complex is the Jewish community. Many communities are Jewish and intersect with many identities. That is why Black Jewish exist. You have them in Iran (Leandra’s mother country) and Israel, where they face systemic racism. Their history proves suprematist tropes exist within the Jewish community as they are slaves’ descendants, a history that should ring a bell with the American one.
People should educate themselves on both ends. Recho’s comments were insensitive, but at the same time, I think there should be a reckoning that anti-blackness in the Jewish community exists and stems from supremacy.
Debra Brown: But they don’t have to educate themselves. That’s white privilege. In Leandra’s case, she’s upset that her little bubble busted. She didn’t have to engage with any of this unless she wanted to.
She’s been exposed for something that they all do. And now she’s trying to get back into her little bubble.
Amanda Winnie Kabuiku: She knew every word that she said. What seemed emotional was articulate. Recho didn’t talk about the Jewish community. She used her Jewishness because she realized the conversation with Recho was borderline. Using that card, she knew it would invalidate everything problematic she said before and that she would have support from her community.
Where can this take the conversation about fake allyship?
Debra Brown: It can be an eye-opener about companies claiming allyship with Black Lives Matter when they do nothing. It can prompt the conversation about accountability and how white women can also be oppressors and use it.
At the same time, we all knew a lot of the allyship last year was performative. She just happened to be the one who got called out for the most in the fashion industry.
Emmanuelle Maréchal: Following George Floyd’s death, many companies in the UK started creating forums for Black employees to express their feelings about George Floyd and asking what could be done to improve the companies’ culture about race and racism. I found it quite hypocritical because it took a man’s death in the USA to think about doing something. But you weren’t there when Black British men were dying at the hand of police or racist attacks. There are prominent cases like Stephen Lawrence’s, a teen stabbed and beaten to death by a racist gang in 1992 in London, and whose murderers ran free until 2012!
I also found it problematic that they created forums only for Black employees when other BIPOC are suffering from similar issues but need their space. In a corporate environment, it feels like you are made to be invisible, and suddenly you become hyper-visible at the expense of other minorities.
Debra Brown: Ultimately, we need to demolish white supremacy. When something big happens, they know they have to say something, or at least they will try. But they’re not doing any actual real work because these problems will continue to happen again and again.
Amanda Winnie Kabuiku: For big companies, hiring Inclusion and Diversity professionals is for brand image sake. Nothing more, nothing less. There was an article talking about LVMH and Louis Vuitton that proved my point. Both groups made enormous profits in Asia during the pandemic, and they didn’t do anything related to BLM. This is where you realize they are above that. They don’t care. They are here to make money and will, from time to time, collaborate with a Black rapper or personality.
Listen to the episode here.
Editor’s Note: Since the podcast episode published, there has been significant scrutiny over the use of Anti-semitic tropes such as the “Jewish American princess” stereotype. These statements were met with overgeneralized commentary that does not represent the Jewish community and has since been addressed on Instagram by Recho Omondi. Although the utilization of this archetype we collectively criticize as insensitive, we encourage you to engage with the episode for its overarching intent and critical display of white privilege, micro aggression, and woeful ignorance to the racial climate.
Omondi states, “I want to recognize that I understand Leandra does not represent ALL Jewish people or the vast culture whatsoever. If I see any mean-spirited hate for the sake of hate towards Jewish people on this account, you did not listen to the episode or are missing the point completely. And you will be BLOCKED. BLOCKED. BLOCKED.”