July 29th, 2010
Fashion News
Essence Editor-in-Chief Responds to Controversy over White Fashion Editor
By Claire

In an article I wrote for AOL Black Voices, Essence Editor-in-Chief Angela Burt Murray (left, with Mary J Blige and Mikki Taylor) responded to the controversy over hiring white fashion director Ellianna Placas:

She said, “I understand that this issue has struck an emotional chord with our audience…however I selected Ellianna, who has been contributing to the magazine on a freelance basis for the last six months, because of her creativity, vision, the positive reader response to her work and her enthusiasm and respect for the audience and our brand. We remain committed to celebrating the unique beauty and style of African-American women in Essence magazine and online at Essence.com.”

In another article on The Grio, she expressed disappointment that her hiring a white editor has seemingly trumped more important issues plaguing the black community. She said, “When we run pieces on how unemployment is devastating black men? Nada. When we run story after story on how HIV is the leading cause of death for black women age 18-34? Zilch. The things that really are the end of our world apparently aren’t.”
What do you think of her response?
Read more here.

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34 Responses to “Essence Editor-in-Chief Responds to Controversy over White Fashion Editor”

  1. sela says:

    Gosh, she always reminded me of Nia Long.

    Anywho, again there wasn’t anyone black and qaulified to do the job? Well I guess hiring minorities in a place can work both ways.

  2. Gaby says:

    1st her black stockings & white shoes are killing me!!! but i think the real issue isnt the hiring of a white editor, but the lack of jobs for black women in publishing. everyone should really focus on the change they want to see happen not 1 position, essence or not.

  3. Dee says:

    If she was so concerned about the lack of employment opportunities for black men then why didn’t she actively recruit one for the position of fashion editor. You mean to tell me in all of Parsons or in fashion houses all over the country there is not a black man trying to get his big break? She answered the question of why people are so upset. And, those white shoes are just horrible.

  4. Lex says:

    Well what did she expect? Inside out.

  5. sun.kissed says:

    I totally agree with Dee. @ Gaby…I’m 100% sure she’s not wearing stockings…

  6. KG says:

    This is a difficult discussion to have, particularly in the mixed company that is the media. If we complain about Essense hiring a white woman, then we’re accused of reverse racism. Yes, the larger issue is that so few magazines are willing to give Blacks a chance. Magazines such as Essense is seen as one of the few publications marketing toward a Black audience. When even they aren’t hiring us, that’s a problem. I’m sure that their new editor is competent and will continue to do an excellent job. Let’s use this “event” as opportunity to bring attention to the limited opportunities for Black journalists.

  7. LoudPen says:

    I agree with Dee as well. There are so many qualified black women and men who have experience and enthusiasm for fashion that would have fit in well at the job.

    And if Essence, was concerned about employment opportunities they wouldn’t just be running articles they would be practicing what they preach. I.e., start an intern program and mentoring program to train young black professionals to take over when they leave. She was clearly trying to transfer the blame in her response.

  8. Maybe its just me but who Essence hires as their fashion editor is inconsequential to me. While I like the magazine, its not my go to publication for fashion/style. I would much rather read Instyle, Lucky and Vogue for fashion. Just saying…

  9. Brandi says:

    I very much agree with what she said. People should focus on other things. But, it still sucks that the position didn’t go to an African American. But, for all we know, an AA just wasn’t the best qualified out of the candidates.

  10. [...] White editor won’t diminish our love of black women [Grio] Essence Editor-in-Chief Responds to Controversy over White Fashion Editor [Fashion [...]

  11. ahsatar says:

    I agree with fabulously me I read other fashion magazines for style tips and I feel like Essence’s style tips and fashion part of the magazine is sad anyway. Maybe they need to go in a different direction *shrugs*.

  12. CocoaBella says:

    Personally, I’m tired of the constant race-war. I sincerely feel that if we don’t want to be discriminated against in this country, we in turn should not discriminate. Yes, ESSENCE is tailored for women of color, but who is to say that a white woman doesnt have the ability, simply because her skin color? The real issue is: are you qualified? Not– are you black? Would we not find it ludicrous if white people were “outraged” over a black fashion editor at say, a Harper’s Bazaar? Because it’d be the same exact thing. True, some of these big-wig fashion media powerhouses have thrown shade, and been discriminating. Does this mean, we have to follow-suit? Where would the cycle even end at that point? We should be leading by example. Cheers to Essence for being open-minded!

  13. If Essence a fashion/life style magazine FOR African American women then it should be FROM African American women, duh!

    But talent is talent and it’s not like there isn’t a white person with a hand in everything for “us.”

    Essence isn’t the old Essence anyway it’s all fluff for the most part.

  14. Miss Moon says:

    I think her response is 100% right – There are far more worthy topics affecting the AA community than this one.

    We yell at pundits on the television who are against affirmative action based on the assumption that the person of color is NOT the most qualified for the job.

    I am sure that the decision to hire Ellianna Placas was based on her history and experience (not her race). Until the day I open Essence and see “Mammy Chic – Get your Aunt Jemima on!” or “Video Hoe is the way to Go!”, I’m going to assume that Ellianna was the most qualified for the job.

  15. Di says:

    Actually from the talks Ive had with people in the publishing world, the job had been open for a minute. Also, it had been offered to some heavy hitters, but NO one WANTED the position.l

  16. Gaby says:

    im not sure we (as a people) should go down the road of “Essence is primarily for black women so it should have all black editors” because then the opp complaint of Vogue etc would be explained as “vogue is primarily a mag for affluent thin white women and white women should speak to white women” I think the convo is good, but i do think the anger is misplaced on the person not the actual issues at hand. Qualified black people are in need of jobs no matter what the publication is, the black voice is not being heard.

    ps perhaps they arent stockings…and i shouldnt have torn her down i apologize to everyone it was just so crazy looking to me…oh well work in progress

  17. um? says:

    LOL @ Gabby!!!! My sentiments exactly girl.

  18. esme says:

    first, of all i don’t believe in reverse racism as a concept. racism is a system of oppression with white people as the oppressors and beneficiaries, and people of color being oppressed. maybe a white person can experience prejudice, but they will never experience the large scale system of oppresion that affects where they live, work, go to school, their health, nor will they have to contend with the completely unjust legal system poc do. racism= social power + prejudice.

    magazines like essence were created because mainstream magazines that supposed to reflect the interests of every race, rarely do, and mostly focus on white people. it is well known the job market on a large scale and particularly in the fashion industry is racist and unfair to black people. since it’s so hard for black people to find jobs in the publishing and fashion industries, i don’t think it would’ve been wrong to try to find a black woman to fill the position before hiring a white woman who will ALWAYS have more job opportunities then a black woman. that being said when i initially heard this, i didn’t care, but i do understand why people are upset.

  19. the truth says:

    We’re not in a post-racial society and Ms. Murray needs to recognize that. I’m sure there are black contributors out there who would be equally capable of doing the job. I don’t care how much you write about the black community or care about the black community, it really takes one to know one.

  20. Michele says:

    @ esme, Break it Down. co signnnnnnnnn

  21. this has to be a joke says:

    Of all the things to complain and be worried about…people are actually upset by this? Black Americans KILL me. In 2 months you won’t remember the facial features of this stylist while HIV, unemployment rates, violence & education will still be here. Way to focus on the real issues plaguing the black community.

  22. [...] was dissension in the ranks, for sure, and it prompted the following response from editor Angela Burt-Murray today: “I understand that this issue has struck an emotional chord with our audience…however I [...]

  23. [...] White editor won’t diminish our love of black women [Grio] Essence Editor-in-Chief Responds to Controversy over White Fashion Editor [Fashion [...]

  24. Taylor says:

    That was a sorry excuse of an address to the very real complexity of the issue. I had, and am questioning whether or not I continue to have, a great deal of admiration for her. That was hardly an address to the issue. This a real issue. Black women are constantly being ignored, and it is not about victimization or being overly sensitive, it is about a magazine that CLAIMS it is for African American women and not living up to that bargain. I am OVER Essence.

  25. Antithesis says:

    i dont know what to say. i get that she’d been contributing the last 6 months but does that warrant giving her THAT position? someone wrote that it’s like the only slot that’s held by a black woman in the industry so i wonder where that leaves them. i also feel like if she’d been contributing on a freelance basis, why can’t she continue to do so? there’s nothing wrong with employing the woman or even creating a position for her but it would be nice if a black woman held the position since opportunities are lacking.

    i guess i was already annoyed with essence for having MJB, halle berry, and janet jackson on the cover every 3 months in a rotation. im tired of seeing the same people on the covers as if they are the only black representation in hollywood…put estelle or someone on the cover.

  26. lovethis says:

    I’m more disappointed that Essence Magazine barely features fashion from Black designers. They only do “special features.” Who cares who pushes the product when it’s all the same? She’ll feature expensive pieces from white designers just like the last editor did.

  27. Tia-Bia says:

    What Essence needs is a new Ed-IC. Burt-Murray has been awful since she got there. Essence needs a re-working in the worst way. New staff writers too.

  28. esme says:

    @this has to be a joke- you must be kidding. you just mentioned a problem plaguing the black community in the all the sh*t you said: unemployment. hello? is anybody home? just because YOU can’t connect the dots and see that THIS situation has contributed to black unemployment (which is higher then white unemployment) doesn’t mean you get to other people who are smart enough to correlate the two for having a problem with this. get it together.

  29. esme says:


  30. Nikki says:

    Take one look at Essence’s ‘natural hair gallery’ and you’ll see that they haven’t been in touch with black women for a long time. The addition of a white fashion editor is just the icing on a cake that has long been baked.

  31. artsylee says:

    I think that we need to give the most qualified person the job, black or white. Racism hurts no matter who perpetrates it.

  32. Blair says:

    I have had a subscription with Essence for the past 3 years and this does NOT sit well with me! Even more, I am even more disgusted how Murray tries to throw on guilt to the critics by bringing up the un-addressed black social issues! Excuse me Murray, but if I’m not mistaken there are black organizations and churches around black communities addressing and aiding the problems we face as a whole. Sounds like Murray just gave in to “office politics.” I’m still absolutely disgusted regardless of how politically incorrect that may sound!

  33. Taylor says:


  34. Melanie says:

    As a freelance writer & editor I understand the need for work, however, I think the most qualified should have the position! We read other publications with Editors whom are not Black, it’s about the content, not color!

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