Essence magazine, the lifestyle, fashion, and beauty magazine addressed specifically to Black women since 1968 has hired a new fashion director, Elliana Placas. The hire is causing more than a little bit of controversy because Placas is White. Given the historically disproportionate representation of Black women in fashion journalism, fashion modeling, and fashion design as well as recent and not-so-recent examples of anti-Black stereotyping (including the 2009 blackface editorial in French Vogue), it is difficult to believe, as some have already argued, that Placas’ hire is evidence of multiculturalism or post-racialism.
There’s not much more I can add to former Essence fashion editor Michaela angela Davis’ statement 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 . . . How many qualified Black fashion professionals did they [Essence] call?
Joan Morgan, a long-time contributor to Essence, makes an equally incisive point.
When these same institutions 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.
While Essence may have lost some of its social focus (“its history of uplifting and honoring the holistic experiences of the black woman,” as one journalist from The Atlanta Post puts it), Davis and Morgan are nevertheless right to point out that the decision to hire Placas has historical and economic implications that maintain and secure the privilege of White women in the business and culture of fashion, in particular, and the U.S. cultural mainstream, in general.