Is There a Problem with a White Fashion Director at a Black Magazine?

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“Essence Editor Responds to Controversial Hiring of a White Fashion Director” by Jessica Wakeman at The Frisky

August 2010 cover of Essence magazine

August 2010 cover of Essence magazine

On Monday, a media industry blog revealed that Essence, a lifestyle magazine geared towards black women, had hired a new fashion director named Ellianna Placas, to begin in September. But it was not the lines on her resume touting O: The Oprah Magazine and Us Weekly that attracted attention. It was the color of Placas’ skin: white.

Placas’ hiring is controversial for fans and supporters of Essence. A former fashion director for Essence, Michaela Angela Davis, tweeted: “It is with a heavy heavy heart I have learned that Essence magazine has engaged a white fashion director, this hurts, literally, spiritually.” She told Clutch, an online magazine for young Black women:

“[The disappointment] 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.”

Clutch itself wrote of the hiring:

“It felt like our mom walked us hand in hand to the center of the biggest shopping mall in the state, turned around, and left us. But we are no longer the little girls eyeballing the glossy giant who taught us how to love ourselves. We’ve been finding our way through the life, love and labels for quite sometime now; and the likely abandonment of the counselor who taught us everything we know is now evolving into clearer overstanding.”

Clearly, a white fashion director at a black women’s magazine is a controversial decision. Let’s take a nuanced look at it.

Read Jessica Wakeman’s perspective at The Frisky.

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Comments

  1. This is from my friend Robert who is African-American/Black and raised in Southern California:

    Hello,

    As a Black man, I feel that people should be hired on their qualifications alone. I think that most Black experts in fashion would make a big deal that they were not hired for Marie Claire, Redbook, Cosmopolitan, Elle, Glamour, Mademoiselle (spelling?) or whatever. Those magazines have White people in charge, and I am sure that someone Black would like to work for them. If that is what the Black editors/experts want, then they should be willing to hire a qualified White person to work at a Black magazine. I believe Gandhi said it best, be the change you want to see in others. If Black people expect White magazine publishers to hire people on qualifications and not race, that Black people should expect Black publishers to do the same.

    I didn’t like it when someone made a big deal out of Steven Spielberg directing the movie “The Color Purple”. Why should a White guy direct a film that makes Black men look bad, and blah blah blah. Well, some Black men look bad because they are bad. Whoopi Goldberg’s character is molested by her dad. Having a Black man direct the movie is not going to make the subject matter change. I believe the guy that complained the most was himself a Black director, who simply wanted the job that Steven Spielberg got.

    Racism works both ways. If Redbook, Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and the others hired nothing but White employees on their staff, they would be labeled as racist publications. Now, it seems that Black people are saying its okay if Essence were to hire nothing but Black employees. This is the 21st century, and in my opinion that is simply wrong.

    I believe the person hired for Essence was qualified, period. Besides, she may have studied fashion in a mostly Black college, or grew up in a mostly Black neighborhood, or attended a mostly Black high school, or been raised by a Black family. Even in the movie “Good Hair” one of the beauticians that Chris Rock interviews was a White Male. The guy was good at what he did, and it didn’t seem that any of his customers cared that he was White. (Believe me, if he was doing a bad job with the hair of the Black women who patronized his shop, he would not have been in business long, had he been White, Red, Yellow, Green or Black.)

    For what it’s worth.

    Robert

  2. I am not a black women and I suspect some will think that is why I have the view I do. But really we have struggled for years to remove race and even sex as a factor in judging a persons skill set. So maybe a kudos is in order that despite it all they picked a person that no matter her skin color she was the best for the job.

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