The recent hiring of a white fashion director at Essence Magazine, a historic lifestyle and fashion publication for African-American women, has spurred a fashion debate rooted in issues of race, diversity and least of all fashion.
When I first heard the news about the hiring of Ellianna Placas (formerly of O magazine) I didn’t know exactly how to process it. There were so many conversations going on around the issue. Clutch magazine broke the story, the Huffington Post picked it up, Michaela Angela Davis and Nawja Moses responded with upset and heartbreak. What did it all really mean, I wondered?
Essence magazine is a totem in the black community. In its 42 year history, Essence has celebrated Black woman and sought out to represent them in a way they were not previously represented. It bought out our tastes and showed us in our various shapes, colors and lifestyles. It was the essence of us as Black women; varied, distinct and full of heart. It is less an issue of hiring a white woman and more what that hiring of means.
For some it means the whitewashing of our culture to others it means foolishly turning the other cheek while other fashion publications continue to exclude us. And for others Essence has fully betrayed their audience. While I understand these sentiments I don’t fully agree with them.
How can we as black people preach diversity, the need for more inclusion in the mainstream fashion industry and then turn around and close our doors? It’s a move of reverse-exclusion. The hiring of Placas has nothing to do with the audience. Essence will still continue to showcase black women, feature them on their covers and in their pages and show us in a positive light. The minute that changes then we have a problem.
As a black woman, one devoted to fashion and writing, I see both sides of the coin. But instead of looking at it as a betrayal I choose to see it as a step in the direction that the world should be going; less about race and more about talented people integrating. Mainstream fashion magazines need to take note from Essence’s lead and begin to be more inclusive.