When Essence's former editor-in-chief Angela Burt-Murray hired Ellianna Placas - a white woman - to be the mag's fashion director back in 2010, many readers were outraged. "How can a white woman cater to black readers?" was the main question. In an already white-dominated industry, many criticized Murray for not giving the opportunity to an African American person, especially since the magazine targets black women.
Placas has now left Essence and there are speculations about whether race was a reason for her departure. Since starting her position as the first-ever white fashion director of the magazine, Placas has been the center of controversy. During the September 2010 New York Fashion Week, a group even staged a silent protest in front of Essence's headquarters. The fashion director prior to Placas, Michaela Angela Davis, was also upset and she publicly expressed her disappointment. Davis responded to Placas' hire, tweeting, "It is with a heavy heavy heart I have learned that Essence magazine has engaged a white fashion director, this hurts, literally, spiritually." She later explained further on her Facebook page:
"It is personal and it's also professional. If there were balance in the industry; if we didn't have a history of being ignored and disrespected; if more mainstream fashion media included people of color before the ONE magazine dedicated to black women 'diversified', it would feel different."
Essence's mission is to be a powerful voice for black women. Placas was criticized for not having an authentic understanding of the black woman. Nevertheless, Murray stood by her decision in hiring the fashion director; she found her to be qualified and a perfect addition. Fashion has no race, so why should it matter who is directing it?
According to Page Six, Placas' departure is said to have been a result of butting heads with current editor-in-chief Constance White, who replaced Murray in March 2011. "They had different visions for fashion coverage," said an Essence spokesperson. Placas and White have yet to make any comments.
It's not the first time a white person has worked under a magazine targeted for another race. Vanessa Satten, editor-in-chief of XXL, a hip-hop publication targeted toward young black men, is a white woman. Rob Kenner, a white man, was editor-at-large for Vibe; Niki Schwan, a white woman, also works for Vibe as a fashion director. The creative world is more racially blended than what many may believe. There are people of all races that work for publications whether they be geared towards one race or for all, there's always going to be someone of a different race behind-the-scenes.
Essence has not yet announced their new fashion director. Do you think fashion has a race? Could Placas' race truly have had an effect on her performance working for a predominately black magazine?
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