Is Essence Leaving Black Women Behind?

The magazine is set to announce its new fashion editor: a white woman.

By Jamilah King Jul 28, 2010

[UPDATE 7:43pm EST] Essence is firing back at the criticism it’s taking for hiring a new white fashion director. Today the magazine’s Editor-in-Chief Angela Burt-Murray took to The Griot to side-step the controversy altogether, saying that while she’s also concerned about the lack of black women in fashion, there are other, more pressing issues covered in the magazine that simply don’t garner the same attention.

"When we reported on the increase in sex trafficking of young black girls in urban communities?," Burt-Murray  wrote. "Silence." 

Stay tuned.


Looks like Essence has a big controversy brewing. The seminal black women’s magazine is set to announce a new fashion editor at its upcoming 40th anniversary. And guess what? Word is that she’s a white woman named Ellianna Placas, who’s previously worked at O and US Weekly.

Former Essence fashion editor Michaela Angela Davis tweeted the news Friday, writing: "It is with a heavy heavy heart I have learned that Essence magazine has engaged a white fashion director, this hurts, literally, spiritually."

The news led to a series of angry responses, most echoing Davis’ sentiments. Geneva S. Thompson writes in Clutch, an online fashion mag for young women of color, that "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."

Ouch. But Clutch isn’t alone. Many readers seem to take issue with the fact that Essence has long been seen as a hub for talented black fashion writers, editors and visionaries. Most seem to pinpoint their anger to the decade-old aquisition of Essence by media giant Time Warner, who also swooped up BET around the same time.

So is Essence‘s nod to mainstream white marketability in any way a step forward? Where readers fall along the debate may depend on what they think of the nation’s post-racial narrative.

Award-winning writer Joan Morgan jumped in the criticism, offering some historical perspective:

"This is about the fact that the publishing industry, particularly when it comes to mainstream women’s magazines remains just about as segregated in its hiring practices as it did in 1988." Morgan told Clutch, referenced a 1988 Folio article about Blacks who are discouraged by the publishing industry’s laissez-faire attitude toward recruitment.

"When these same institutions (naming Conde Nast, Hachette and others) start to employ hiring practices that allow Black publishing professionals the same access to their publications, that’s when I can get all ‘Kumbaya’ about Essence‘s new fashion director."