Why We Should Embrace Essence's White Fashion Editor
Essence decided to hire a white woman as their fashion editor, which brought mad disappointment to many of its readers. This hiring decision, though, is a sign of entrepreneurial, if not also racial maturity. Fans should take note.
The hiring of Elianna Placas, a white woman, to be fashion editor of Essence magazine has proven madly controversial, almost invoking images of Beyonce squaring off with Ali Larter in "Obsessed." The anger here is misplaced though, if not unfair. The assumption is that a white woman couldn't possibly appreciate nor understand a black woman's sense of fashion, even though that's exactly what Placas did for six months. If Essence's readers weren't enraged during that time period, then there's no reason they should start now.
The fashion world and the media world are intensely globalized industries, not beholden to any one race or ethnicity. Even niche African-American publications need white readers and further circulation from mainstream media partners to stay afloat.
Fashion-even that which is targeted at black women-is no different. Consider one of the top designers for black women, Kimora Lee Simmons, is half-Asian, grew up in a suburb that is almost 90% white and lived in Paris since she was 13. But that hasn't driven black women to write letters of fury to Phat Fashions.
Would it hurt Essence's readers' feelings to know that not all of the staff of House of Dereon is black either? Probably not.
Would it surprise any of us to know that most of our "black" media publications are not exclusively black staffed? Definitely not.
We all know about Viacom's ownership of BET, or Time Inc's ownership of Essence-people cried foul then. Those buyouts took place years ago and somehow neither brand has dissolved from the market or have been whitewashed down by evil white supremacists or whatever people's worst fears were. If anything, their market brands have expanded and the grand majority of decisions made about content in these outlets still come from black people.
This is no less true in small black press outlets. Both of the black newspapers I wrote for in Pittsburgh-one of which was the historical Pittsburgh Courier-had white reporters and editors and these Caucasian inclusions made the publications no less the blacker for it. Black people still flock to watch "Girlfriends" and "The Game" even though both are produced by white Republican Kelsey Grammer.
It's not about who can create the blackest product, it's about who can create the best product to compete in the marketplace. In that respect, Essence's hiring of Placas displays a great amount of maturity, and other niche publications would be wise to follow their example. Also, the conversation around race needs to be elevated beyond calling "race betrayal!" every time a white person is introduced into the picture. In the racially segregated world of the early-to mid-20th century that may have had a place, but it's played out in today's society.