ESSENCE Defends New White Fashion Editor Despite Readership Concerns

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ESSENCE, a celebrated lifestyle magazine targeting Black women, is at the center of a controversy converging matters of race, equality and fashion. For the first time in its 40-year history, ESSENCE has hired a White fashion director, Elliana Placas.

“ESSENCE was the first magazine that says in their brand that it is for Black women and their motto when I worked there was 'where Black women come first,'" former ESSENCE fashion editor and public speaker Michaela Angela Davis told CNN in a broadcast interview. "This is not about being racist, this is about wanting a place where Black women can grow and flourish and go out and help diversify.”

Online, ESSENCE readers sounded off about the new hire, some supporting Editor-in-Chief Angela Burt-Murray’s decision and others strongly contesting the move. “I'm curious as to what ESSENCE’s fashion will become. If the editor keeps in line with the normal trend of fashion… in ESSENCE, then everything is fine,” LeRoynda Brooks, ESSENCE reader and economist, told the {AFRO}. “However, if the models picked for the ads and the suggested clothing styles become Britney Spears-ish, then she needs to go. My concern is for the latter. I wonder if ESSENCE is trying to move in a new direction. If so, that will be their doom.”

Unlike others who question whether Placas is capable of connecting with African-American audiences, Pennsylvania ESSENCE reader and accountant Kene Thompson said race is irrelevant. “I don't think her color should be an issue,” said Thompson. “If her qualifications and style fit to what they want displayed in their publication, good for the both of them.”

While Placas’ race is at the center of the controversy, her background in journalism and fashion cannot be denied. She has worked as a writer and editor with Hachette Filpacchi, Hearst, Time, the Meredith Corporation, Wenner Media and has also been a featured fashion expert on the “Today Show,” E! Entertainment and “Extra.” She has also served as fashion editor at O, media mogul Oprah Winfrey’s publication.

Despite the uproar, Burt-Murray said she would continue to support Placas, who has freelanced with the publication for the past six months. Burt-Murray said she is disappointed some readers reacted negatively to the news, and added in contrast, the response to hard-hitting stories about social ills and African-American health is minimal.

“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,” Burt-Murray wrote in an opinion piece posted on thegriot.com.

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