Essence Hire Of White Fashion Director: Why It Matters

There’s been quite a bit of controversy surrounding black women’s mag Essence hiring of a white woman as Fashion Director. Ellianna Placas, the white woman in question, has worked at O: The Oprah Magazine and US Weekly, and is highly qualified for the position. She may very well have been the most experienced and qualified candidate considered for the job, and shouldn’t that be all that matters?
Well, no.
Not if the reason Placas was the most qualified candidate is because black women have a hard time finding work in the fashion world – and thereby are being denied the chance to build their qualifications. Say what you will about post-racial America, but in the fashion industry blacks and other racial minorities are – well, a distinct minority. From media to designers to models, it’s a sea of white faces, holding up whiteness as the beauty ideal.

The fashion industry seems oblivious to the issue. In a tone-deaf but not uncommon reaction, online fashion magazine Refinery29 called the controversy surrounding the Essence hire “a backlash of reverse racism.” One commenter on the site wrote, “black or white… equal rights to have this position… it’s not like there is a magazine just for white people. i don’t get it.”
Wait, what? All of the major fashion magazines are for white people. Allow me to underscore this point with a quick racial analysis of the August issue of Elle*. Counting all the images of women’s faces that appear in the magazine, 370 were white, 5 were latino, 9 were asian, 6 were of indeterminate race, and 15 were black. And included in that 15 was Mariah Carey.
White people make up 75% of the American population – but in Elle they were 91%. Blacks are the largest American minority group, making up 12.4% of the population. In Elle, only 3.7% of the images were of black women – and one of them was Mariah Carey.
It’s less obvious but just as bad on the mastheads of fashion publications, and that is why a magazine for black women needs a black fashion editor. Because until the fashion world starts giving black women the same opportunities they afford whites, black women need to create them for themselves.
* This is not to single out Elle – any of the other major fashion mags would have yielded similar results.