Last Wednesday morn lovely styleaholic Najwa tweeted: “Just heard some very disturbing news about Essence magazine.” I tweeted back: “Did they fold?” Never got a response because I forgot to type the friggin “@” symbol. Then on Sunday I saw this Facebook update by cultural critic & former Essence Fashion Editor Michaela angela Davis: “It is with a heavy heavy heart I have learned that Essence magazine…,” okay by now I’m thinking, ‘Oh God, Susan Taylor must have died.’ So with equal parts dread and anxiety I finished reading her status: “…has engaged a white fashion director.”
Whew, that’s it! I exhaled. I was relieved and honestly, initially, did not get what all the drama and pain was about. But as I read through some of the 50 or so comments that were posted almost immediately on Michaela’s page that day it became clear that many writers and supporters of Essence felt betrayed. Michaela continued in her post by stating: “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 were many commenters though that disagreed, like the one who offered: “I’m surprised that everyone assumes this is terrible news simply because the new person is White. We know absolutely zero about them besides that.”
Personally speaking, Essence WAS definitely a place where I found nurturing and inspiration. My first job was at Essence and I was first published in Essence, but honestly I haven’t thought of Essence as being a Black creative sanctuary in at least 10 years. Honey had been that sanctuary and currently Arise and my own venture– theHotness.com are filling that void for me. When I look at Michaela or my homegrrrls Sharon, Karen and Joicelyn I see Black style, creativity and sass. I see imagination, edge and what I like to call a distinct “Black Aesthetic.” Sorry, I haven’t seen that in Essence in quite some time and as such it’s lost all relevance in my life.
Comrade and fellow journalist Esther commented on her FB page:
Essence. The magazine that was a visual & lyrical home for a global black female audience hires a white fashion director. It was the place me and so many other daughters of the diaspora gathered each month to (view) the images that spanned the spectrum and juiciness of brown gorgeousness.
Reading that I immediately realized that this love for Essence—this great outpouring of emotion– was mostly a nostalgic love. Like fawning over an old lover who been done us wrong gurl! I’ve read over two hundred comments on this topic and not one person has said they are currently in love with Essence and that as a Black woman or even as a Black writer they find it empowering in 2010. Their mandate is ‘a dedication to Black women” but seriously folk, when is the last time they really honored that? Was it when they put Reggie Bush on the cover to celebrate “Black Love” when he was dating Kim Kardashian who, by the way, is not Black? Or maybe it was when they had P. Diddy on the cover to celebrate fatherhood. This of course was right after the birth of his twin daughters to his baby mama Kim and when he was denying his alleged love-child by another woman (which of course he later admitted was his chick on the side & that she had in fact given birth to his daughter) while also in court with his first baby mama Misa arguing over a lack of child support. As a magazine for Black women this is who you choose to idolize as Black manhood? Or it has to be this month’s issue where they replace Janet Jackson’s beautifully cropped coif with the seemingly ubiquitous and boring yaki yaki weave? That’s gotta make us sisters with short do’s feel so good about ourselves and our self-image! The emphasis on Euro aesthetics and designers abound and has so for quite some time. I feel they abandoned a distinct Black creative and cultural style aesthetic for ad dollars. Green over black baby! Honestly, I am way more upset over Steve Harvey being a damn relationship consultant on their staff than this new hire! Now that pisses me off! It wasn’t until my homeslice Joan brought it home with her hardcore, grassroots, no-nonsense response that I fully grasped what could be major repercussions as a result of this Essence new hire. She commented:
I could care less how qualified this woman is. This is not about fashion, trends, (or) how Essence is doing as a magazine. It’s deeper than that. This is about my bottom line and my livelihood. When these same institutions start to employ hiring practices that allow black publishing professionals (like me) the same access to their publications, that’s when I can get all Kumbaya about Essence’s new fashion editor. Right now though all I’m seeing is yet another publication where a qualified black publishing professional is not going to be able to find work.
Even though I don’t wholly agree with the outcry, I do wholeheartedly understand. Seriously, I cringe at the thought of the new fashion director calling Armani or Diane Von Furstenberg or Tracy Reese or whomever they call nowadays to ask for something chic that represents the style of black women and knowing these designers and publicists will look across the table and see a pale face claiming to rep my style and culture. Awkward. Tragic. Disappointing, but certainly, at least from my point of view, not the least bit surprising or even earth shattering.
Click here for the official response from Angela Burt Murray– Essence Editor-in-Chief.
How do you feel about this new hire? Do you care? Do you still read Essence? Is this a “dark day” for Essence and Black media?