A friend of mine brought this issue to my attention. Though I used to work at Essence, it was back in the eighties. I am no longer a subscriber for a number of reasons, but mainly because I have outgrown my women’s magazines phase, so this has nothing to do with Essence per say. Yes, many women’s magazines are at the forefront of bringing women’s issues to the masses, and I applaud them for that. However, they also promote consumerism and use self-loathing to do so i.e. buy this dress, purse, make up, etc. because your natural self is not good enough. Yet, having worked at Essence, I know they are a business like any other. The objective of a business is to make money, and the way they make money is through advertising, not subscriptions.
Do I think Essence should have hired a white fashion editor? No! My reasoning is quite simple and not based on reverse racism. I am just mystified by the fact that Essence could not find a qualified African American fashion editor. I just don’t believe it. Of all places at which an African American could find a job (In June 2010, the white unemployment rate was 8.6 percent. The black unemployment rate was 15.4 percent, and the Hispanic/Latino rate was 12.4.), you’d think it would be at Essence magazine! African Americans are sorely underrepresented in the media. According to journalist Michael Garry [Where Are the Minorities in Publishing?], white publications don’t hire people of color:
“Minorities today comprise 22.7 percent of the general population, with blacks, the largest minority, making up 12 percent. Most magazines, however, would be hard pressed to find minorities comprising 5 percent--even 3 percent--of their staffs.”
It’s a sad but true fact that African Americans are less likely to be employed by white publications, and even the industry admits that this has nothing to do with a lack of qualified applicants. When I worked for the Association for Education in Minority Journalism as a coordinator of their New York University site (again back in the eighties), this predominantly white organization sought to change unfair hiring practices and increase the minority presence in the personnel of American newspapers and magazines. The industry itself has recognized that racism is the reason white publications do not hire people of color.
Working at a women’s magazine is considered a glamour job, so it’s an extremely competitive field and subsequently, it doesn’t pay well. When I worked as an assistant editor at Essence, I made $13,000 a year! I never told anyone because it was too embarrassing. People in this field do it for the love and status, not the money. So if you are an African American woman in this field, I think you deserve some kind of break, at least from your own people!
Essence should have hired an African American female editor for the same reasons that women’s magazines generally hire women! Again, whites and males simply have hundreds of more options. Look at the staff list of any women’s magazine, and you will see it’s mostly female. Look at the staff list of Newsweek, for instance, and you will see it’s mostly male.
Essence is no longer black-owned. A shift in hiring practices is just one of the many reasons why people were fearful of what would happen once it was sold to Time-Warner. Just like dreams, fears do come true!