Good Enough Mother has watched with increasing curiosity the latest dust-up about race in this country. This time it’s over the hiring of a white fashion editor for the iconic Essence Magazine, which has made its name catering to the beauty needs of black women for decades. There’s been reports and coverage all over the networks from CNN to the Today Show. Now here’s my take – though to be honest, I can truly see both sides of the issue. Let me try to explain.
You see, being a black woman in this country is a deeply moving and profound experience. There are issues that we deal with that are unique to us because of the color of our skin; issues of great importance that we cannot explain and trying to do so is a sure way for something to get lost in translation.
I’ll give you an example. After spending the majority of my adult life chemically straightening my hair, two years ago I decided not to do it anymore. This was prompted by a lung infection that landed me in the hospital, where for three days,I was pumped full of medication. A week later, I went for my last chemical relaxer and days after that, my hair began falling out in my hands.
That was my epiphany and I joined the ranks of a growing number of African American women who were tired of the chemicals and cost; the burns and the burden of trying to maintain a style my hair was not designed for. I fretted over the forecast and lost more hours of sleep than I can count before I finally said enough.
When I cut the last of my relaxed hair of in March of 2009, I was truly moved to tears as I saw the dry, dead ends fall away. There was one overwhelming feeling that ran through every fiber of my body…I-AM-FREE!
Black women spend more than any other group on hair care products and procedures. Hair is something we talk about constantly; we compliment each other on it, we share secrets, we obsess over the growth and its overall health. There are entire websites, books and magazines dedicated to the care, growth and upkeep of African American women’s hair.
So when Essence announced that it had hired a white woman as Fashion and Beauty editor, to be honest, one of the first things I thought of was hair. How could she possibly know that struggle when her long, straight locks probably sprout effortlessly from her scalp? Of course she can certainly ask someone about the black woman’s hair experience but it won’t carry the same magnitude as someone who’s been through it.
But let’s be real, this is about making money. Essence first and foremost is in the business of selling magazines and that is no easy task nowadays. You do that by putting your best product out there. If they felt like this woman, Elliana Placas, was the best person for the job, then by all means they should have hired her. One peek at her resume and work history answers the question about whether she is qualified. And is it really fair to ask companies to give people of color a fair shake on the anchor desk and in editorial positions in more mainstream publications and but then earmark those positions at magazines that cater to us? Something about that doesn’t feel inherently right.
But the hiring of Elliana does shut off one avenue for black candidates who don’t seem to get the same opportunities at mainstream publications with white audiences. Besides Andre Leon Talley and his work at Vogue, how many other editorial positions are held by people of color at white publications? And by offering the job to Placas does that mean there were no other people of color who could take on the job at Essence?
Maybe in hiring Elliana, Essence was modeling the change it wants to see in the industry. But I don’t think it’s that deep. I think in the end this is about putting forth a good product and getting people to plunk down their hard earned cash for a copy of a magazine. Time will tell if Placas can make that happen…