July 28th, 2010

Essence Hires a White Woman as Fashion Editor: You’re Mad Huh?

It seems that the blogosphere is up in arms over the recent hire of Ellianna Placas, a white woman, to head the fashion department at Essence.

Like Angela Burt-Murray, Editor-in-Chief of Essence Magazine, I believe people have lost focus of the pressing issues the black community should be focusing on. When a co-worker began telling me about the negative attention this new hire received, I honestly didn’t see the issue and I thought it was rather progressive.

Of course it is evident that there is a lack of African-American women that are visible in the fashion industry, but what does that issue have to do with promoting someone (in this case, a white woman) to Editor? Experience, talent and ability are a few of the qualifying attributes a prospective candidate should have, but  race should NEVER be a factor.

In her post on the Grio, Angela presents her side of the issue:

And when I set out to hire a new fashion director I certainly had no idea I would end up making this decision. I first got to know and came to respect Ellianna when she came to work with us nearly six months ago. We were conducting a search for a new director when she was hired to run the department on a freelance basis. I got to see firsthand her creativity, her vision, the positive reader response to her work, and her enthusiasm and respect for the audience and our brand. As such, I thought she’d make an excellent addition to our team. And I still do. This decision in no way diminishes my commitment to black women, our issues, our fights. I am listening and I do take the concerns to heart.

But interestingly enough, the things I think should most upset people and inspire boycotts and Facebook protests, often seem to go relatively unnoticed. Like when Essence conducted a three-part education series this year on the plight of black children falling through the cracks in under-performing schools. Crickets. When we reported on the increase in sex trafficking of young black girls in urban communities? Silence. When our writers investigated the inequities in the health care services black women receive? Deadly silence. When our editors highlighted data from the Closing the Gap Initiative report “Lifting as We Climb: Women of Color, Wealth and America’s Future” that showed that the median net worth of single black women was $5? There went those darn crickets again. When we run pieces on how unemployment is devastating black men? Nada. When we run story after story on how HIV is the leading cause of death for black women age 18-34? Zilch. The things that really are the end of our world apparently aren’t.

While the response to these important stories may not always be as strong as we would like or lead to immediate change, Essence remains committed to telling these stories. Forty years ago Essence was founded to empower, celebrate, and inspire black women to climb higher, go further and break down barriers. Our commitment to black women remains unchanged as we continue to stay laser-focused on those principles–no matter who works with us.

About the Author

Ronn Richardson
Ronn Richardson is a young PR professional from NYC who is determined to learn as much as he can despite any barriers that try to hinder him. Eager to see a change in the types of online publications that college students, young professionals and new-school entrepreneurs visit, he conceived Socialtik Mag.



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  1. Having important stories told in the magazine and hiring a white woman to display nationally fashions for black women are two different things. If there's a commitment to empower black women it should be in all spheres. America still needs it and the fact that a white woman fits so well the magazine tells mmore about what the magazine has become in the later years, than about about the white woman herself. Just something to thingk about.

  2. My Thoughts:
    Although Essence Magazine is a Magazine targeted to reach African American women, it is insane to think that hiring a white woman is somehow against the rules. Think about it, this is a magazines with the purpose of empowering black women, providing them with the best in fashion and entertainment. In this case a white woman was more fitting for the job. She could provide a better, more rounded view inside of the world of fashion. This is reverse racism at its best.

    When Joshua Packwood became the first white Valedictorian of Morehouse College it didn't cause half as much controversy nationally. The scenarios are very similar. Like Packwood, Ellianna Placas worked for the honor of becoming the first White to excel to a position formerly held only by blacks. How many black people are offended when whites hate on President Barack Obama Because since 1776, he is the first Black President? Is it fair to say that he is unfitting because blacks are only 12% of the population? No, so why is it fair to say that a white woman cannot provide fashion to blacks? Besides, most things black women wear aren't designed by black designers.

    As people we need to escape this whole “white vs. black” thing. Its old. We allow it to bind us and keep us in a place of defense all the time. Lets create some offensive plays that don't include the word “black” so that we are not always trying to play catch-up, and get mad if a white person wins a game that they created.

    Dr. King is probably turning in his grave. He said “not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” But I guess that statement doesn't apply to our white counterparts…I digress

  3. I honestly don't understand what the big deal is. The best woman earned the position AND she happens to be White. The last time I checked , clothes are not exactly race-specific and if a Black woman earned the position of being fashion editor of Vogue, Marie Claire or Vanity Fair and White people complained, they would be labeled as racist. Essence hasn't been a Black-owned magazine for 10 years now, so the argument of anyone talking about keeping it a “Black owned” and operated publication is null and void.

  4. Are there any white magazines that has a black woman as there editor? Please send the names of the magazines. I truly feel everyone should get a chance white or black but, I pray none of the other blacks were over looked. We need to understand that every race look out of there own but, the black race.

    I have to pray about renewing my monthly issue with Essence. I am from the old school where they hose Martin Luther King and many blacks and block the doors when we wanted to vote and the so call Wallace block the school to keep black out and Rose Park had to move of the front seat and be jail because of white people. Face facts things has not chance it’s just hidden.

  5. It seems that the blogosphere is up in arms over the recent hire of Ellianna Placas, a white woman, to head the fashion department at Essence.

  6. Having a white woman fashion editor is not an issue. The important is she can do her job as a fashion editor so well. – Marla Ahlgrimm

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