Ebony has responded to the growing criticism that it doesn’t pay the mostly black freelance writers whose works actually make the magazine. On Wednesday, Jagger Blaec penned an article for The Root that followed up on a piece she’d written for The Establishment.
A number of writers have since stepped out of the shadows and revealed that they, too, were stiffed by Ebony:
Writer Ijeoma Oluo explained why so many writers have kept quiet about this:
After the outcry, Ebony issued this statement Wednesday:
Ebony magazine values the work of our freelancers and writers. We understand their concerns and we know that their unique talent and dedication to telling our stories have been an integral part of our success. As a part of our strategic growth plan, EBONY Media is working diligently to streamline and improve efficiencies throughout our operations and we will honor our commitment to our partners.
Hey, Ebony—we don’t believe you; you need more people.
Here is the thing: “Ebony” is just a name on a piece of paper. It is the writers who contribute and share their stories who make it what it is. Without them, Ebony is nothing but old memories and ads for Murray’s Pomade. The people who spill their pens, brains and blood onto the pages are the most important obligation any publication has. They should be paid even before Ebony cuts a check to the electric company, because it is the writers who pay all bills (along with Murray’s Pomade, but still ... ).
In full disclosure, I am one of the people who have been stiffed by Ebony. You’re probably thinking, “But you’ve been working at The Root for months.” Exactly.
I’ve contacted the company regularly for payment for articles that date back to August 2016, only to be repeatedly told some version of “We got you.” After I eventually concluded that they just weren’t going to pay me, I had the same internal conflict that Ijeoma Oluo and others voiced: Do I say something and have other editors and publications give me a permanent side eye, or do I chalk it up to the game? (I never knew what that meant. Is there a game where people don’t get their points or money? Are they referring to the “dope game”? I’m not an expert, but I’m pretty sure drug dealers don’t take kindly to nonpayment. Plus, they don’t typically have a lot of chalk ... but like I said, I’m not an expert.)
There is another side to the story. For many people—especially black writers—Ebony magazine is like family. It sat on our grandmothers’ coffee tables. We flipped through its pages waiting for haircuts. Malcolm X was in it. Muhammad Ali was on the cover. Billy Dee Williams was in it (because Murray’s Pomade had his hair looking ... you get what I’m saying). Airing it out publicly felt like putting family business in the street. When your aunt Gladys owes you money, you don’t go tell the world.
But it turns out that Ebony isn’t our auntie. It’s just a remnant of something we remember fondly. If I start calling myself Beyoncé, it doesn’t mean I can automatically sing and dance. The Ebony of Martin Luther King Jr. owes me nothing because it’s gone. But whatever this thing is that has been left behind should send me my check.
Or at least a jar of Murray’s.