A senior executive at Estée Lauder is being forced to step down after sharing a racist meme about the coronavirus on Instagram that the company said has caused “widespread offense.”
John Demsey, executive group president of the Estée Lauder Cos., was told to leave the cosmetics giant, effective this week, after posting a meme spoofing a “Sesame Street” children’s book cover. The meme, which showed Big Bird wearing a surgical mask while standing at a sick Snuffleupagus’s bedside, used a redacted version of the n-word in the title while stating that Snuffy had contracted the coronavirus at a Chingy concert. The post has been removed.
Demsey did not immediately respond to a request for comment but issued an apology on social media.
Estée Lauder said in a statement Monday that Demsey’s post had been “damaging to our efforts to drive inclusivity both inside and outside our walls, and do not reflect the judgment we expect of our leaders.”
“Inclusion, diversity and equity are core to our company’s values and priorities globally,” Estée Lauder Cos. leaders William P. Lauder, executive chairman, and Fabrizio Freda, president and CEO, said in the statement. “Furthermore, over the past two years, we have worked together as an organization to advance our approach to racial equity and have taken a hard look at where we can and should do better. Together we are making progress against our commitments to our employees, our partners, and consumers.
“Our employees, and especially our senior leaders, are accountable to continue driving our progress and to respect the values of this company for the long term.”
Estée Lauder, among a number of other well-known companies, has worked to address race-related issues in the workplace, particularly in the wake of the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed in 2020 by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. At the time, Estée Lauder vowed to increase the number of employees of color at all levels within the company and ensure that its products meet the diverse needs of consumers of color, among other things.
After Demsey posted the meme last week, he was placed on unpaid leave before being told to go.
On Saturday — days before the company’s most recent announcement — he issued an apology on Instagram.
“I am terribly sorry and deeply ashamed that I hurt so many people when I made the horrible mistake of carelessly reposting a racist meme without reading it beforehand. There are not enough words to express my remorse and sorrow,” he wrote.
“Not only did I hurt many people whom I respect, the terrible mistake that I made has undermined everything I have been working for since I began my career 31 years ago. The meme is the furthest thing from what I stand for and I should have never reposted it.
“I am so sorry that I let down the Company that I have dedicated my life’s work to as well as its employees, artists, friends, and colleagues. I hope that in time people will judge me, not for this awful mistake, but for my lifetime of words and actions, which demonstrate my respect for all people.”