Defending Essence‘s Decision To Hire A White Fashion Director
News has come out that Essence magazine, a Time Inc. glossy aimed at black women, has hired a new fashion director after being on the hunt to fill the position for months. Problem is, the new fashion director is white.
Clutch magazine broke the news that Ellianna Placas‘ race was a problem for some former and current employees of the magazine earlier today. According to Clutch, Michaela Angela Davis, who used to work as a fashion editor for Essence, had some of the most volatile comments about the new hire:
“I am so so hurt and confused and frankly angry by this news. I feel like a girlfriend has died.” Michaela’s tweets and Facebook comments on the hiring informed many media insiders, and former Essence staff members who had no clue. “I am going against my own advice and publicly speaking when I’m so emotionally driven.” Michaela says she reached out to Angela Burt-Murray, current editor-in-chief of Essence. “I emailed her as a respectful heads up informing her that I would be speaking up.” Michaela says her feelings on the news have much to do with black women’s hostile history with the fashion industry. Further explaining her concerns around the issue, Michaela wrote on Facebook: “It is personal and it’s also professional. 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.”
I’m going to come out of Styleite‘s Royal We for a moment to make a comment that might not reflect the opinion of the rest of our staff. While I don’t necessarily agree with Davis’s approach in voicing her consternation, I grew up in a large family of women devoted to Essence — for those of you who haven’t figured it out yet, this blogger is a black man — and I remember that the reason they loved it is because no other fashion or lifestyle magazine made them feel all that welcome. And no matter how many ‘black issues’ go on the racks, and no matter how few scant pages with Liya Kebede on them get published in Vogue or Elle or InStyle, the sad fact of the matter is that most mainstream fashion magazines do not include in their pages or employ in their offices very many women of color.
So yes, I can see how the hiring of a non-black fashion director at a black women’s magazine might cause a little upset. Not only is it the loss of an opportunity for a talented black woman to do good work, but the readers might not feel like Placas’ point of view represents them.
At least, that is, now that they know she’s white. According to her LinkedIn page, Placas has been a contributing fashion director at Essence since February. I gather that all the Placas fracas today is a response to her permanent installation as fashion director.
I recognize that Placas will never fully understand a black woman’s point of view, but I also recognize that she has considerable fashion and magazine experience. Because of that, I think that so long as she does a good job generating relevant fashion coverage and supervising gorgeous editorials, she deserves her position.
[Ed Note: Justin may have abandoned the Royal We for this post, but I can safely say that We at Styleite wholeheartedly agree with everything he has written.]