May 27, 2011

First, let me not pretend that this blog hasn't been very critical of Essence. I don't think a month goes by where we don't have something to say about the decline of this once great instituition in the black community. Well, it looks like we're not the only ones who's been critical of Essence Magazine. Raynard Jackson took to the the website, ThyBlackMan, to write a pretty scathing article against the publication. I must agree I agree with a lot of the things he's sayin.

Essence Magazine used to be the preeminent magazine for Black women in the U.S. They, like many Black publications, have lost their relevance; and in the process become an embarrassment to the very group they claim to target.

Essence was founded in 1968 by Ed Lewis, Clarence Smith, Cecil Hollingworth, Jonathan Blount, and Denise Clark. Their initial circulation began at around 50,000 per month and now is estimated to be over 1 million per month. It is a monthly publication focusing on Black women between the ages of 18 and 49. Essence was bought out by Time Inc. in 2005, thus no longer being a Black owned publication (similar to B.E.T.).

The impetus behind the founding of Essence was to show a side of Black women that was never portrayed in the mainstream media. Images of Black women were controlled by white media outlets that had little to no knowledge of the Black community. Most of these images were very stereotypical and lacking substance.

There were unique issues relevant to Black women that other publications were totally ignorant of. Black women could not wear the same makeup that white women could—there are differences in skin type. Black women have unique issues when it comes to styling their hair—there were no mainstream publications that dealt with these differences.

So, initially, Essence met a very real need and provided a venue for Black women to share common experiences with each other (remember, this was pre-internet days when you didn’t have all the instant communication we have today).

Essence portrayed Black women in the most positive of lights. They made Black women feel proud to be Black and female! That was then, this is now.

Now, Essence is just another Hollywood rag (focused on Black women), sprinkled with a few substantive, positive stories; but, that is no longer their focus!

I looked at the cover picture for the past year and each cover featured an entertainer. Isn’t this the same stereotyping that we have accused white media of—showing Blacks as only entertainers? There is nothing wrong with having entertainers on the cover, but is that all there is to offer Black women?

I can guarantee that most Black women have never heard of Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander, Alicia Jillian Hardy, or Katie Washington.



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