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Essence Hire Leads to a Media Debate on Race

When the nation elected Barack Obama to the presidency, many-a-pundits wondered if we had entered a post-racial society. Well the battles with health care reform and other Obama initiatives, proved otherwise, but what about in the media world?

That’s been put to the test, now that Essence magazine, the fashion title for black women, has hired a white editor. Upon hearing the news of the hire, Keith Kelly reports that founding fashion director of Vibe magazine Michaela Angela Davis wrote a essence.7.28.10.jpgFacebook post that has set off a huge debate about whether a magazine should hire based on race, in some cases. Davis wrote:

“It’s with a heavy heart I’ve learned that Essence magazine has engaged a white fashion director,” she wrote. “The fashion industry has historically been so hostile to black people — especially women. The seat reserved for black women once held by Susan Taylor, Ionia Dunn-Lee, Harriette Cole (+ me) is now — I can’t. It’s a dark day for me.”

Some responders have agreed with Davis’s statement, while many others say Essence did the right thing, if the hire, Ellianna Placas, was in fact the best candidate for the job.

Clutch magazine, another title focused on African-American women’s fashion, chimed in on the controversy.

“Our immediate reaction? As the publication unofficially deemed ‘Essence’s little sister’ – a growing young urban women’s online brand for news, critical commentary, lifestyle, fashion and beauty – it felt like our Mom walked us hand in hand to the center of the biggest shopping mall in the state, turned around, and left us.”

I’m assuming that’s bad. One of Gawker’s white dudes, Hamilton Nolan responded as well.

“However! Though race and cultural heritage may be a legitimate factor to consider in hiring for such positions, they are not the only factor. The question here seems to be: Is this white woman, Elianna Placas, so much better than the closest black female candidate for the position that her talent outweighs the built-in disadvantage that her race may in fact be in this very particular position?

I’m also a white male, and don’t really feel I have much more to add to the subject. But it’s an interesting question, should certain magazine only hire certain races? Any readers out there want to touch on the issue?

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