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Sometimes, Ethnicity Does Matter When Doing a Job

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But not this time! Do you read Essence? Neither do I, aside from that one time about a year ago when I did a comparison between the advertising in its pages and those of Marie Claire. My final conclusion at the time: I am so pleased that I don’t read women’s magazines on a regular basis. Anyhow, there has been another blow-up amongst the Essence readership and the black magazine-buying public in general, because the venerable brown-skinned woman’s bible has hired a white editor.

Not a white editor-in-chief. A white fashion editor. Apparently this is impossible for some people to deal with. There is talk of betrayal, anger and her just not being “right.” Never mind the fact that she has been doing freelance work for the publication for the last six months; the white girl must not be allowed to break the sistah barrier!

Please. Let’s just wind our necks in for a minute and think. What do fashion editors do? They pick out the clothes and accessories that are (hopefully) going to make us look good. They don’t decide which feature articles to run in the magazine; they don’t decide whether or not the spirituality section is still valid. And provided there is a separate beauty editor, they don’t recommend the makeup or haircare products we should be using. In short, the fashion editor is the clothes person. Clothes that are worn by women of all  ethnicities at a certain price-point. And no, there is no “typical black woman body” that a white women could never understand. Women of all ethnicities come in all sorts of shapes and sizes.

As a magazine whose target demographic is aspiring black women, it would of course be a departure from form if Essence were to appoint a white woman or man to helm the publication. As the public and most prominent face of the imprint, they would bear little relation to the consumers they hoped to attract. But in the case of a fashion editor, responsible for reporting on trends in clothing, I think a little more leeway is deserved. There is no reason why a white woman, black man, or Chinese transsexual would not be just as good a fashion editor, provided they knew what was on-trend and how to make it look good on the page.

Looking at some of the largest companies in the world, the majority of their managers are still white middle-aged men. But a change is afoot, as more Indians, Chinese and Mexcians (Hola, Carlos Slim!) rise to positions of prominence. While this does not prove that institutional racism is a myth, there needs to be an acknowledgement that ethnic minority businesses are just as susceptible to practising prejudice as others.

A British curry restaurant may never get credibility if the head chef is a Norwegian who has never visited the Asian subcontinent. On the other hand, there is no reason why the same restaurant — with “authentic” chefs — couldn’t have white waiters. I have never felt, as a black woman, that there are certain jobs that I can’t do simply because of my ethnicity. The Essence brouhaha to me feels like a bunch of people who are not happy having their “space” being infiltrated. Those complaining about the appointment may want to check themselves, before I upgrade them from merely misguided to racist.

[Image by Anokarina]


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