After stiffing dozens of the country’s best and most popular black journalists for years, the iconic Ebony magazine entered into a settlement agreement with a group of writers who had gone unpaid for freelance work dating back to 2015, according to documents obtained by The Root.
When I was growing up, in my home there were three things my sisters and I knew we could not do:
- Talk while grown folks were talking.
- Put sugar in our grits (although, honestly, we would never consider such a terrorist act. I only put it here because I prefer multiples of three and to grits-shame The Root’s deputy managing editor, Yesha Callahan).
- Read my mother’s Ebony before she did.
I have no idea why. My mom demanded that her Ebony magazines be treated like a sneakerhead’s pair of vintage Jordans—she didn’t want them creased. I only point out that fact to explain the reverence for the magazine in my childhood home. My affinity for Ebony is also the reason I called my mother the first time the magazine asked me if I would be a regular contributor. Even now, even though the company essentially stole my work, I am unreasonably reluctant to go hard on Ebony.
When Jagger Blaec became one of the first writers to speak publicly about the issue, other freelancers for the magazine realized that they weren’t the only ones who had work stolen. Soon the hashtag #EbonyOwes began trending, and black writers came out of the woodwork to share stories about how they had been stiffed by the iconic magazine, myself included.
After the National Writers Union picked up the cause and filed suit against Ebony Media Operations in September 2017, the magazine agreed to pay a list of more than 40 writers, almost all of them black, a total of $74,768. The settlements would be paid in quarterly disbursements, with the writers who had been waiting the longest receiving the earliest payments. By Dec. 28, 2018, all 44 people owed money by Ebony will be paid, per the settlement agreement.
For the sake of transparency, let me state that I was not part of the group who filed suit against the company for the money it has owed me for articles I wrote for the website dating back to August 2016. Although I want my money, I’d rather hold on to the anger so I can drag them if I see them in the streets. I haven’t yet figured out how I would drag a media brand or an inanimate object, but trust me ... I’ll figure it out. I’m pretty clever when it comes to dragging.
Plus, I didn’t send the writers union my information in time.
If Ebony were a white publication, I’d say they treated black writers like slaves. If they weren’t such a large part of my upbringing, I’d call them thieves who exploited the one resource that made their company worth anything.
During a time when televisions only had three channels and one didn’t work unless you made your little sister stand beside the TV and gently touch the antenna under threat of have snot rubbed on her neck when she went to sleep, Ebony was entertainment and information. In my head, I still can’t bring myself to say “Fuck those guys,” because it feels like I’m saying “Fuck us” or “Fuck my people.”
But now I realize that Ebony is just a collection of letters. It’s an idea. They stole from black people and never had any intention of paying up until they were faced with the prospect of facing the legal ramifications. The white man is what made them pay black writers. They are as much vultures of black culture as the Kardashians or Rachel Dolezal.
Ebony no more deserves my respect than Donald Trump. Working out of the same building and having the same title doesn’t make Trump George Washington or Barack Obama. Ebony is dead. The name is still alive, but the thing I once knew has been inhabited by thieves and would-be plantation owners.
Now #EbonyOwes no one but me.
So, yeah ... fuck those guys.
Editor’s note: When The Root contacted Ebony Media Operations for comment on the settlement agreement, the company noted that it does “not comment or issue statements on matters that have been settled legally.”
It did not mention Michael Harriot’s check.