Blogs are abuzz with the news that African American women’s magazine, Essence, recently hired a non-black fashion director.
Essence editor-in-chief Angela Burt-Murray told Black Voices in a written statement that Ellianna Placas, a former fashion editor at O: Home and Us Weekly, is just part of Essence’s growing fashion team.
“I understand that this issue has struck an emotional chord with our audience,” said Burt-Murray, “however I selected Ellianna, who has been contributing to the magazine on a freelance basis for the last six months, because of her creativity, vision, the positive reader response to her work and her enthusiasm and respect for the audience and our brand. We remain committed to celebrating the unique beauty and style of African-American women in Essence magazine and online at Essence.com.”
In an opinion piece that appeared on the Grio, Burt-Murray expressed disappointment that hiring a white editor creates such controversy while the magazine’s stories about serious issues in the community go unnoticed.
‘When we run pieces on how unemployment is devastating black men? Nada,” she wrote. “When we run story after story on how HIV is the leading cause of death for black women age 18-34? Zilch. The things that really are the end of our world apparently aren’t.”
Nevertheless, Essence’s mission is to “inspire black women to lead bold, fulfilling lives,” and several readers and former employees, including former fashion editor Michaela Angela Davis, seem to feel that Essence’s newest staffing choice goes against that mission.
Michaela revealed on her Facebook wall, “It’s with a heavy heart I’ve learned Essence Magazine has engaged a white Fashion Director. I love Essence and I love fashion. I hate this news and this feeling. It hurts, literally. The fashion industry has historically been so hostile to black people — especially women. The 1 seat reserved for black women once held by Susan Taylor, Ionia Dunn-Lee, Harriette Cole(+ me) is now-I can’t. It’s a dark day for me. ”
While many of her friends agreed with her thoughts, saying, “It’s a sad day for young black women everywhere,” others found no problem with the new hire saying, “Who’s to say she won’t do a phenomenal job at paying incredible homage to Black female beauty? I wouldn’t write this person off based on race, alone. I *would* be curious to hear more about context – background, past work, and upbringing, even. But based on that single thread of data, I am not upset.”
Michaela maintained, “If there were balance in the industry, if we didn’t have a history of being ignored and disrespected…if more mainstream fashion media included people of color before the ONE magazine dedicated to black women “diversified” it would feel different. There is one precious seat at the fashion shows that says Essence the magazine for black women. When asked, “What is your unique perspective for black women?” How is that answered?”
Do you think it’s necessary for Essence magazine to have a black fashion director who understands the needs and wants of the black community? Or do you think a non-black fashion director can do just as good of a job speaking to a largely African-American audience. Does race matter when it comes to fashion?