Essence magazine has fired Elliana Placas, the white fashion director whose hiring in 2010 sparked a firestorm of controversy, including a silent protest during New York Fashion Week. When Placas joined the publication, which imagines itself as the premier lifestyle magazine for African-American women, critics were in an uproar that a white woman occupied the fashion director post for the first time in the company’s history. The thinking went: She doesn’t understand what it means to be a black woman and, thus, can’t represent one in the magazine, and she’s taking the job away from qualified black women who should be given priority. Angela Burt-Murray, who was editor-in-chief at the time, released a statement saying black women have more important issues to worry about. Claims of reverse racism flew in casual conversation and among media outlets.
Now that Placas has been fired (and it’s been a year and some months after Essence replaced Burt-Murray with Constance White), that same conversation about reverse racism is resurfacing.
It does not apply. If White fired her simply because she’s white, wouldn’t Placas have left the company more than a year ago? And it’s important to note she’s not the only white employee at Essence; the magazine also hired Michael Bullerdick as managing editor. (He since has left the company after racially insensitive posts were uncovered from his Facebook page).
It’s distressing that mainstream media looks to situations like this to prove that racism occurs on both ends of the spectrum. I can’t help but think, as this particular story gets more and more coverage, of all the women of color who vie for jobs at fashion magazines and are passed over, not because they aren’t capable, but because of their race. Where are the articles defending them and asking for them to be treated fairly?
The fashion industry has long been an elitist community, with white players rising to the top of the fray. This singular instance, in which race doesn’t even seem to be a factor, doesn’t take away from that.