News Flash: Black Magazines Aren’t Always That Black

Those upset that Essence has hired a white fashion director should not be surprised that white people work at black magazines, too, says this veteran of several not-so-black magazines.

Because publications like Essence are produced for a specific demographic, members of that group can develop a tendency to believe that because they are the audience, they are also more qualified to be the staff. They may also be more likely to notice editors who look like them working at these magazines, so it’s only natural for young readers with dreams of working in publishing to see themselves at places like Essence. But thinking that whatever you lack in experience, you can make up for with intangible qualities like passion is foolish.

It’s alarming how many young black college students I meet who believe that, because their skin tone matches those of most people in the pages of a Vibe or Essence, they know more than others about doing a job at such a magazine. I tell them all the time: If you really want a seat at the staff meetings of these publications, you will have to compete with other people who want to sit there too — some of whom may not look like the magazine’s audience.

This is not to say that the Essence move is a non-issue. The magazine’s editor-in-chief, Angela Burt-Murray, in a statement she made regarding the issue, said, “Interestingly enough, the things I think should most upset people and inspire boycotts and Facebook protests, often seem to go relatively unnoticed. Like when Essence conducted a three-part education series this year on the plight of black children falling through the cracks in under-performing schools. Crickets.” Her point being, something as trivial (on a global scale) as hiring a white fashion director shouldn’t be an issue at all — or at least, not as big as it has been in the media.

Now, I may not agree with her point entirely (largely because I feel that if it’s in the news, it’s fair game), but I do think that folks who have never worked a day in the world of publishing should do their best to hold back their anger. As far as I have seen, after six years working at black publications (or publications aimed at the black demographic) alongside many non-black colleagues, when the job needs to get done and get done right, no one cares about the race of the person doing it.

Jozen Cummings is a writer living in Harlem, N.Y. He also hosts his own blog, Until I Get Married.

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