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  1. a lawyer
    a lawyer July 30, 2010 at 10:47 am |

    Also worth pointing out that in the United States it’s not legal to discriminate on the basis of race in hiring. There’s an exception for cases where race is a “bona fide occupational qualification” (a director who envisions a character being a certain race is free to consider only actors of that race) but I find it extremely difficult to believe fashion editor would qualify. Nothing prevents a white person from being extremely familiar with black American middle-class women’s fashion.

    Hiring discrimination is hard to prove, so Essence could have skirted the law by conducting show interviews of white candidates without seriously considering them. But a “no whites need apply” policy would have been illegal and subjected Essence to all sorts of liability.

  2. norbizness
    norbizness July 30, 2010 at 11:48 am |

    I think it’s called “The Blinternet.”

  3. Fat Steve
    Fat Steve July 30, 2010 at 12:42 pm |

    I’ve read a few blogs that imply the decision was influenced by big-wigs at Time-Warner, which if it’s true is awful. But assuming it’s true is kind of (well, very) patronizing towards Ms. Burt-Murray.

    I believe Angela Burt-Murray should at least be given the benefit of the doubt as she will be the one who takes responsibility if Essence loses its core audience.

  4. Kristen J.
    Kristen J. July 30, 2010 at 12:46 pm |

    As an aside, I also think those who are outraged are missing something crucial about the history of what we call “black” publications, or TV shows, or even colleges. White people have always been involved, to some extent. This is unlike the other side of the coin, where whites have often historically had trouble including people of color

    That’s a great point.

  5. Sarah
    Sarah July 30, 2010 at 1:34 pm |

    I want to say thank you for this post. Thank you for writing it from different points of view and not calling upon the “white women will NEVER UNDERSTAND black fashion” attitude that so many people who’ve commented on stories about this have fallen back on.

    I mean. . .What happened to equal opportunities in spite of race, sex or creed? Clearly, she was legitimately the best person for the job if the (black) editor-in-chief hired her!

  6. FashionablyEvil
    FashionablyEvil July 30, 2010 at 2:22 pm |

    I think the idea that there should be white fashion, black fashion, white TV shows, black TV shows* to be detrimental to everyone, but particularly to minorities since people think they can push them further to the side because their needs are being met elsewhere.

    I can totally understand the ambivalence that some have expressed, but I agree that if it’s really a problem for
    Essence’s readers, the editorial staff will figure it out pretty quickly when the angry letters and cancellations start rolling in.

    *Leaving aside the fact that race issues in America go far beyond the black-white divide.

  7. Daniel M.
    Daniel M. July 30, 2010 at 2:45 pm |

    FashionablyEvil: I think the idea that there should be white fashion, black fashion, white TV shows, black TV shows* to be detrimental to everyone, but particularly to minorities since people think they can push them further to the side because their needs are being met elsewhere.  

    On one hand I agree with you, but on the other hand it’s pretty clear that although there is some culture-blending, there is still a racial cultural divide. And I think more than skin color, that’s what still divides the races.

    So you have entertainment that appeals more to black people because of their culture or more to white people because of their culture (or to Koreans/Russians/Indians/Iranians/etc.). Because although we all live in the same country, we still have distinctive elements of our own race’s culture.

    Just like black women probably aren’t going to buy makeup for white women and vice versa (which is also a defense for racial division in fashion, because fashion inherently changes to complement a person’s physical features like skin tone and facial features, which is true even within individual races).

    It’s not a perfect solution, but is there one really?

    More on-topic, I thought Fashionista made an excellent point that the EIC had seen Placas’ success in black publications and had decided to hire her, which tells us there -is- an influential black woman who thinks this particular white woman is qualified for the position (Here’s a link to the relevant quote along with a handful of others on both sides of the debate: http://tinyurl.com/2fp9hdp)

  8. Comrade Kevin
    Comrade Kevin July 30, 2010 at 2:48 pm |

    If we flipped the framing a bit, what would the implications be if, say, a man wanted to write for a periodical that was woman-centric and had never before hired a man for any such position before?

    Or if a LGBT publication hired a heterosexual under similar circumstances?

  9. Fat Steve
    Fat Steve July 30, 2010 at 3:11 pm |

    By the way, in addition to the above comments, Michaela Angela Davis said

    “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. ”

    which is a valid point.

  10. RenKiss
    RenKiss July 30, 2010 at 3:19 pm |

    I can understand Shani’s sentiment. As a black woman Essence never appealed to me. As you pointed out it’s heteronormative and middle class.

    But hopefully things will work out and the anger will subside.

  11. BCN
    BCN July 30, 2010 at 3:44 pm |

    Fat Steve: By the way, in addition to the above comments, Michaela Angela Davis said“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. ”which is a valid point.  (Quote this comment?)

    And thus is my issue with the hiring of a white woman. I don’t doubt that she’s talented (her resume and work proves her so) but was there no Black woman similarly talented? And where else can black women get the experience they need to become so? The mainstream magazine industry certainly isn’t providing it…

  12. Jay@racialicious
    Jay@racialicious July 30, 2010 at 4:49 pm |

    Sarah: I want to say thank you for this post.Thank you for writing it from different points of view and not calling upon the “white women will NEVER UNDERSTAND black fashion” attitude that so many people who’ve commented on stories about this have fallen back on.I mean. . .What happened to equal opportunities in spite of race, sex or creed?Clearly, she was legitimately the best person for the job if the (black) editor-in-chief hired her!  

    Yeah, what happened to equal opportunity? I mean, there’s all these black women getting jobs in mainstream fashion outlets, right? Right?

    The playing field is still not level. There are no signs that it’s going to improve except random people saying “don’t worry, it’ll get better”.

    I’m not saying the hiring is automatically bad. But let’s not pretend that opportunities to shine are equally afforded to everyone in this country.

  13. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable July 30, 2010 at 6:24 pm |

    @ Sarah and Jay@Racialicious, you also have to ask why a white woman is the best person for the job. It’s like when we say that a given man is the best person for the job in finance. Sure, but that man has had the support of an institution that says he will be good with numbers, math, finances, picking stocks, taking risks, being respected, and so on – more so than a woman or anyone of non-binary gender. He’s the best person for the job because he’s been socialized to believe that it’s his place and the entire western world expects it from him.

    It’s the same thing in this case – the fashion world is essentially closed to women of color.

    I’m a business person, so at this point I’m very “what are you going to do when it makes the shareholders happy?” There’s resignation there. (And further, I just don’t imagine there being much of a future in print publications period).

    As a person, however, it irritates me.

  14. Sisou
    Sisou July 30, 2010 at 7:50 pm |

    @Shanti
    you wrote “As an aside, I also think those who are outraged are missing something crucial about the history of what we call “black” publications, or TV shows, or even colleges. White people have always been involved, to some extent. This is unlike the other side of the coin, where whites have often historically had trouble including people of color ”

    I dont think they are missing anything. I think what you wrote is a part of the anger. It is an issue that there seems to always be a white people in power behind any ” black” organization.

    And it seems like that the white people who fund or who are higher ups are the one really makes the profit off their black consumers and employees. Look at who are the real money makers in music and sports for instance.

    And yeah its kinda weird that * they* are still making money off of *us*.

    Plus, there are clear glass ceiling. Black women cant get into the white fashion business and when they do they are not going to far.
    And now it seems like they cant go to far in ” Black fashion” industry. It not just about opportunities to be seen but also opportunities to have high positions in these companies.

    About discrimination I know you can totally do it entertainment and modeling. I wonder if fashion companies and magazines have exceptions or loopholes too. Just curious… plus yeah when did the law ever stop companies from discrimination ( not that people should do it)?

    Plus I agree with comments Ive read at other blogs. A white women cant really understand the beauty and fashion needs of black women. all the experience in the world aint going to equal embodied experience.

  15. lisa
    lisa July 30, 2010 at 8:10 pm |

    Don’t you feel a little bit, though, that that’s one (high) salary that could and should have gone to a black woman? I struggle to maintain a diverse racial staff (I’m a white woman who does the hiring) and it doesn’t always work out to be as diverse as I think it should be…. But I am sensitive to the fact that it’s harder for woman of color to get high paying jobs and that when there are opportunities and qualified candidates (which there must have been)… that women of color should benefit?

  16. t-ster
    t-ster July 30, 2010 at 8:15 pm |

    On one hand, I have no problem with Essence hiring a white editor..in theory. But in practice, the implication is that no talented WOC could be found to fill the slot. Um…no. Didn’t Harriet Cole leave her post at Ebony a few months ago? Granted, that’s a much more substantial magazine than Essence, but still.

  17. Roschelle
    Roschelle July 30, 2010 at 11:02 pm |

    a lawyer: Hiring discrimination is hard to prove, so Essence could have skirted the law by conducting show interviews of white candidates without seriously considering them. But a “no whites need apply” policy would have been illegal and subjected Essence to all sorts of liability.

    Key point. Hiring practices have to be, or should legally be, equal and balanced.

    Essence magazine has never really been my thing either. The articles seem to be the same old leftovers served cold and unappealing month after month.

    The internet is the perfect medium for knee-jerk reactions. You read it, and if it’s something you don’t necessarily agree with, your keyboard is fingertips away and the driveling begins

  18. Amanda Marcotte
    Amanda Marcotte July 31, 2010 at 9:08 am |

    I’ve read a few blogs that imply the decision was influenced by big-wigs at Time-Warner, which if it’s true is awful. But assuming it’s true is kind of (well, very) patronizing towards Ms. Burt-Murray.

    Sorry, but I flinch every time I hear someone, particularly a dude, whip out the “If minorities/women/employees are overpowered by someone who wields their social power against them, to suggest that the victim was victimized is condescending. I prefer to believe that people are always empowered to stand up to people with more power, and if they can’t do it, it’s their own fault.” This is used to excuse rape, sexual harassment, racial discrimination, etc.

    I can *easily* see management over a black women’s magazine putting pressure on to hire a white fashion editor without coming out and saying something directly that would make it easy for Burt-Murray to walk or even sue, particularly if she does like the hire that was being pushed on her. I have zero doubt the mostly white male management at big publications believe that the only proper people to run fashion spread are thin white women, or preferably white men. Fashion has long been a field where ugly prejudices are excused and dysfunction is encouraged because the claim is that customers only respond to that.

  19. Amanda Marcotte
    Amanda Marcotte July 31, 2010 at 9:13 am |

    Clearly, she was legitimately the best person for the job if the (black) editor-in-chief hired her!

    I don’t think that’s a given. Fashion is prejudiced against black women in the same way comedy is prejudiced against women in general. Stereotypes that women aren’t funny are in play when women are deemed not funny and therefore not good enough for the job. I can easily see how the same thing could work with fashion and black women, particularly when it comes to the institutional support required to nurture someone until they’re qualified to run an entire magazine’s fashion direction.

  20. Mongoose6
    Mongoose6 July 31, 2010 at 10:00 am |

    @FatSteve in 9, I also noticed this quote and think it’s a key part of the argument. Essence is being held to higher standards not because of its own actions, but rather because of the failure of others to include more black women both in the editorial board and on the pages. It’s not really fair, but is understandable. Really we should be castigating all of the other magazines (which I am sure IS happening), but that doesn’t go anywhere because they won’t listen to protests. Bloggers can be confident that Essence is listening, and so it’s easier to give feedback on hiring.

  21. Ken
    Ken August 1, 2010 at 2:32 pm |

    I find this debate quite stimulating and indeed a bit perplexing.
    A fair employment specialist might rightly raise the BFOQ arguement; that race is not a Bona Fide Occupational Qualification for this job as, the ability to lactate(generally sex linked) would be for a “wet nurses” job. The ultimate goal is to somehow ferret out the most qualified individual.
    I, for one question whether a white woman, no matter how well culturally connected, could ever understand the nuances of Black Fashion and beauty as well as a similarly educated and experienced white woman
    It is not unlike hiring a “soul food” cook for an Italian Bistro……there is something fundamentally wrong about it

  22. Flowers
    Flowers August 3, 2010 at 3:25 pm |

    Ken:
    I, for one question whether a white woman, no matter how well culturally connected, could ever understand the nuances of Black Fashion and beauty as well as a similarly educated and experienced white woman
    It is not unlike hiring a “soul food” cook for an Italian Bistro……there is something fundamentally wrong about it  

    I don’t know much about fashion, but aren’t most of the designers male? It seems like the disconnect between the identities of the designers and the identities of the consumers is far greater than that of the fashion editor and the consumers.

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