ESSENCE Editor-in-Chief Speaks on White Fashion Director Controversy

As we reported on Monday, ESSENCE Magazine has been under fire as of late for hiring a white Fashion Director, Ellianna Placas. Powerful media figures like Michaela Angela Davis, former Fashion Editor at ESSENCE Magazine, and Nawja Moses, media personality, have both spoken out about the issue. The one voice we hadn't heard from? ESSENCE Editor-in-Chief Angela Burt-Murray.

After reaching out to the ESSENCE PR department and not receiving a response, we stumbled across a quote Burt-Murray shared with Media Ink:

"I understand that this issue has struck an emotional chord with our audience. However, I selected [Placas], 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."

I applaud Angela Burt-Murray for standing by and defending her decision. What do you think of her statement?

Also, last night Bryan Boy from the popular blog of the same name, tweeted:

How racist is this Michaela Angela Davis woman? http://bit.ly/9M3PGG So what if a white woman is capable of handling a black magazine?

It seems several people are crying reverse racism in response to the uproar about ESSENCE's white director. I feel they are missing the point. No one is saying Placas is not capable.

The overarching concern of women who have voiced disapproval is that the fashion industry, as a whole, is still very one-sided with white people occupying the majority of the top positions at major magazines. 

If the industry was more diverse as a whole, then a white Fashion Director at an African-American magazine would feel different I believe. But the reality is there aren't nearly as many opportunities as there should be for fashion editors of color in this business. And the hiring of Ellianna Placas means there is one less opportunity for African-Americans in the fashion industry, at a magazine that, as Burt-Murray said, "celebrates...African-American women."

One of our readers captured the sentiment best:

"What sticks out vividly in my head is come fashion week the chair that says "Essence Mag Fashion Director" will have a white woman sitting there amongst her peers whom are all white. Not a black face in site. Its truly disheartening."

Do you agree with Bryan Boy that the backlash surrounding Ellianna Placas is "racist?" Discuss.

And see some of Placas' work on Ciara below via Necole Bitchie:




Anonymous said...

Ciara's hair looks like "Why yes... this is a wig." The styling is great but that hair is fake as a $3 bill. NEXT!

Anonymous said...

Ciara's hair looks like "Why yes... this is a wig." The styling is great but that hair is fake as a $3 bill. NEXT!

Internalist said...

I think that your take on the subject is dead on but the use of racism in your question is incorrect. Readers should refer to Monique W. Morris' article in the Grio for clarification: http://www.thegrio.com/politics/redefining-racism-in-the-tea-party-era.php

Due to the limitations of the English language there is no one word to accurately capture what this backlash is about. This matter is a response to our history; it is a backlash to historical racism. bell hooks and I believe Toni Morrison explore this space and are wonderful resources on the topic.

Although i would challenge you to rephrase your question, I agree with you that critics are missing the point.

Coutura said...

Thank you Internalist for reading and commenting! I fully agree that by the definition of racism that you shared, there is no way this backlash can be labeled "racist."

But my question is not about my personal opinion, but rather the attack that has been unleashed on critics of ESSENCE's new hire and specifically, Michaela Angela Davis.

In the article, I quote Bryan Boy who tweets "How racist is this Michaela Angela Davis woman?" Sigh. It seems people have taken to calling her racist and while I don't agree personally, I posed that question to invite readers to either support or challenge that particular way of thinking.

I like to think of my blog as an open forum where people, who I don't necessarily agree with, still have a platform to voice their opinions. Bryan Boy's statement shocked and troubled me, but the reality is other people, who may or may not read this blog, could be in agreement.

Maybe the compromise is to put racist in quotes to communicate that it is not indicative of my opinion, but rather takes a statement from Bryan Boy and opens it up for discussion.

Nevertheless, to that end, I feel your issue with the improper use of the word is better directed toward Bryan Boy, who labeled Michaela racist, making your answer to my query an emphatic No!

But the question in and of itself will stand as it simply addresses a point-of-view that has surfaced in regard to the outrage surrounding ESSENCE's new hire, and while I don't subscribe to it, I will address it and invite others to address it as well.

Anonymous said...

Let Bryan Boy continue to enjoy is 15 minutes of fame. Still, no one has hired him to become a part of their magazines. Yes, Placas is probably qualified due to her experience, but I still have to side with Michaela on this. Black women are shut out of many fashion industry jobs. They have the talent, experience and they have the panache. And sadly when it comes to today's style, it seems the only style that they want us to believe that matters is celebrity style, To me it doesn't. The streets are the real rynways.

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