The Essence of ESSENCE

July 29, 2010
My mini feed for four days straight has been filled with stories, thoughts, blog posts, New York Post items and more on Essence Magazine hiring a White woman as Fashion Director. Even Anderson Cooper is talking about it.

I had nothing to say and wasn’t looking to stir up or add any fuel to the “controversy.”

I think I was waiting for Essence, a place I consider family, to have a chance to respond. Essence Magazine Editor-In-Chief Angela Burt Murray did just that with a statement yesterday.

I had the opportunity to watch Angela in action for three and half years during my journey from intern to Associate Editor at the magazine and website.

And I tell you, Angela is a hard working woman. She was there early. She was there late. And always looking fabulous. She read the comments posted to the website and sent in, and forwarded many to the staff for us to know what readers were saying.  She had and continues to have much respect for the millions of women who trust her to celebrate them. 

She has also drawn much criticism for decisions like this last one, and some she had nothing to with her, like Essence selling to Time Inc.

She has rarely responded. Until now.

Many commented on her response to the hiring that they wanted more of an explanation. But I was surprised she was that personal.

I remember getting an email from her last summer after me and my good friend Niema Jordan wrote a story in the magazine on 10 New Places to Meet Black Men. I would love to say I was exaggerating when we were called pimps and worst by blogs about the feature. After being called to the floor, I responded on this here blog.

In her email, Angela was understanding and asked that we not respond to criticism publicly.  That was her style and I understood.

So seeing her response to the hiring controversy made it apparent that this swirling story had hit a nerve on both sides. 

Black women are right to demand their publication provide what they want to see. For better or worse, Essence has been positioned as the Black woman’s Bible, so any issues with the magazine are treated as personal.

And as Angela pointed out, that same passion needs to be present in demanding good schools for our kids, demanding our men protect us and themselves from AIDS, and the biggest demand that we as Black women not cease every opportunity to tear each other down.

One thing that hit a nerve with me are the people who seemed the most upset over the hiring were often the same people who said they don’t read the magazine. That doesn’t add up.

Michaela Angela Davis’s response came from a place of love.  I felt her. But a lot of the other stuff is coming from a dark place. It’s easy to tear other people down when we aren’t feeling our most fabulous. I’ve been there.

Yes, it would be great if Essence had a Black Fashion Director.  I get what it means to have Black women in the front row at fashion week. 

But that’s just it.  I see us there!

Since joining the fashion and beauty pr world, I’ve been able to attend many fashion shows and I see US up and through the tents. From running the show to photographers and stylists. 

Seeing June Ambrose front row at the Brian Reyes show in February and hearing people whisper “who is she?” made me smile at her amazing story of success. I also realize the importance of having “us” in places we are few.

We can’t look to Essence to be everything for every woman. One reason I didn’t take the hiring so personal is that I love Jones Magazine, and many other outlets that offer great style tips and features for Black women.  And the internet offers even more amazing places that tailor to your specific fashion palette, and not just one style for “Blackness.” I stumbled on this site today http://cocoandcreme.com/, and LOVEEE it. Everything I want as a young and stylish (my opinion:) Black woman.

So if Essence doesn’t do it for you anymore, you have every right to grow as the magazine does the same. But we as Black women, we still have to co-exist and support each other. Criticize, yes. Condemn, no.

Former Essence EIC Marcia Gillespie was at my apartment over the weekend, and that woman is a CLASS ACT. She always reminds me that live is short, so to enjoy it and be present.  So like everything else in my life, I take from Essence anything that is beneficial or helpful for me, and keep it moving.Because at Zora Neale Hurston said years ago . . .

“Sometimes I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It's beyond me.”


  1. Caila K said...:

    I wholeheartedly agree! And Angela Burt Murray's statement was very well said. We get so up in arms over this, but crickets are to be heard when it comes to REAL issues.

  1. Redbonegirl97 said...:

    As long as she is doing a great job and doing things for the mag that make me happy and reading, who cares.

    Peace, Love and Chocolate