White Editor Hired at Black Magazine! Crisis?

Oooo, it's a racial-cultural-media controversy of the most delicious sort! Essence magazine has hired a white lady as its new fashion director. Is that bad? Or, perhaps, not bad? We'll tell you what we think below—then, everyone argue!

As a white man employed in the media, it's no surprise you have to listen to my opinion first! Essence is a black woman's magazine, in case you didn't know (racist). Keith Kelly reports today on a bunch of stuff various people wrote on Facebook bemoaning the fact that Essence hired Ellianna "I'm white" Placas, a veteran of Oprah's magazine and US Weekly, as its new fashion director. Sample complaint: "It's with a heavy heart I've learned that Essence magazine has engaged a white fashion director...The fashion industry has historically been so hostile to black people — especially women."

This is actually an interesting debate! Of course it's easy to simply ejaculate, "Hiring should be colorblind!" But should it be, in all cases? No, probably not! Do we not criticize various important magazines for having a dearth of, for example, black writers and editors, because that dearth leads to gaping holes in their coverage and a general cultural ignorance on staff? We do! In other words, we (meaning "liberals who talk about the media") generally feel that it is important to have diverse staffs at magazines, not only out of a basic sense of fairness in hiring, but also so that the magazines do not suck.

So, then, we allow that race is a legitimate factor to consider in hiring, generally. And more specifically, we must allow that race (or ethnicity, or national origin, or gender) may be more relevant in certain jobs. Might a magazine legitimately want its Mexico City correspondent to be Mexican? Indeed it might! Likewise, might a black women's magazine want its fashion editor, responsible for dictating coverage of black women's fashion, to be a black woman? Indeed it might, legitimately!

However! Though race and cultural heritage may be a legitimate factor to consider in hiring for such positions, they are not the only factor. The question here seems to be: Is this white woman, Elianna Placas, so much better than the closest black female candidate for the position that her talent outweighs the built-in disadvantage that her race may in fact be in this very particular position?

We don't know. Maybe she is extraordinary, did you ever think of that (racist)? You have to take these things on a case by case basis, though of course people are going to get mad no matter which way you come down. America's own racial history caused black institutions—whether media outlets, schools, or businesses—to be built, out of necessity. Is it good for white America to partake of these institutions? By all means! We should all get to know one another. Should white people read Essence? Sure! Should a white person be the top editor of Essence? Probably not unless it's absolutely necessary, because, until we reach that mythical Post-Racial America, a job like that holds a certain symbolic value that should be respected.

Should a white lady be fashion editor of Essence? It's fine with me, though I do not really deserve a vote. What do you think, Essence readers?