Jul 28, 2010

Essence: White editor won't diminish our love of black women
 
"Paging Susan L. Taylor (we need you back STAT!!!!)" ---- The Savvy Sista
 
This summer much of the country and cable news has been consumed with a discussion about race in America. From the media trial-by-fire of Shirley Sherrod to Maureen Dowd's New York Times op-ed questioning whether President Obama had enough African-Americans in his administration, folks really are talking. And clearly, despite how far we like to think we've come as a nation, the hot-button topic of race always has the ability to set people off and illustrate just how far we haven't come. It's something I see quite a bit in my own work.

As Editor-in-Chief of Essence magazine I sometimes find myself in the unenviable position of ticking people off when it comes to matters of race. Whether it's a profile on P. Diddy and longtime girlfriend Kim Porter discussing their controversial relationship ("You're promoting having children out of wedlock and a negative image of black couples!" wrote one disgruntled reader) or assigning a guest column to singer Jill Scott to voice her opinion about black men who date outside their race, "The Wince" ("Reverse racism!" was a common critique). Or the February cover with a shirtless Reggie Bush ("He doesn't date black women--this is a betrayal of the highest order." Many readers shared that particular sentiment). And most recently my hiring of Ellianna Placas, who happens to be a white woman, to head our fashion department has stirred the passions of a small but vocal group in the blogosphere ("I feel like a girlfriend has died," stated one devastated African-American writer who not long ago wrote about coming to terms with her daughter pledging a white sorority for the magazine). Really?

Now don't get me wrong. I read and digested many of the heartfelt and poignant posts on this topic and I sincerely respect everyone's thoughts and sentiments. I also share their concerns and frustrations about the lack of visibility of African-American women throughout the ranks of the fashion industry, which is overwhelmingly white. I, too, want to see more of us on the mastheads of all the magazines, seated in the front rows of the shows, designing our own fashion lines, and contributing our special flavor and flyness to the world of style.

And when I set out to hire a new fashion director I certainly had no idea I would end up making this decision. I first got to know and came to respect Ellianna when she came to work with us nearly six months ago. We were conducting a search for a new director when she was hired to run the department on a freelance basis. I got to see firsthand her creativity, her vision, the positive reader response to her work, and her enthusiasm and respect for the audience and our brand. As such, I thought she'd make an excellent addition to our team. And I still do. This decision in no way diminishes my commitment to black women, our issues, our fights. I am listening and I do take the concerns to heart.

2 comments:

  1. I can certainly understand readers' frustrations over this. It's not enough that BET has been turned into a mini version of MTV, but know we have this White editor who is going to tell us what clothing best suits our bodies and skin tones, etc. I think that Essence could have given this job to someone in house.

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  2. What happen to the motto For Us by Us? Angela you say you are listening; but you are not hearing us (your readers) there is a big difference, because if you were hearing us then you would have never hired a white fashion director for a magazine that is suppose to be for Black Women. We as black women have always had to step aside and let someone else’s light shine, and for some reason, everyone in the world is okay with that. The one place I used to look to see the Black Women’s perspective, and to see and hear about positive things that black women were doing was Essence Magazine, now the magazine comes in the mail, and I don’t even bother to open it. Essence Magazine has gone so far down in creditability since Susan Taylor left, that I as a Black Women I’m appalled, disappointed, disgusted and hurt by the one magazine I used to couldn’t wait to read at one time in my life. To Angela and all of the people associated with Essence, I am going to need you to do some real soul searching and ask yourself, are you really still serving the Black Women?

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