July 30th, 2010
03:33 PM ET

Opinion: Essence magazine offers lesson on race

Sophia Nelson
Special to CNN

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/OPINION/07/30/nelson.essence.magazine/tzleft.nelson.sophia.courtesy.jpg caption="Sophia Nelson: Many black women upset because Essence hired white fashion director" width=300 height=169]

Essence, the nation's premiere black women's magazine, caused a firestorm recently when it hired a white woman as its full-time fashion director. With all due respect to the critics, Essence magazine got it right.

Kudos to editor-in-chief Angela Burt Murray and her team for having the good business sense and courage to elevate a qualified and talented white woman, who has served as a freelance editor in the fashion section for the last six months, in a time of such racial tension, cries of reverse racism, and calls for an end to "diversity programs."

In incidents involving former USDA employee Shirley Sherrod, the Tea Party and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, America has been engaged in a stressful and often ugly conversation about race. Now comes Essence, a magazine that I have read and subscribed to faithfully since I was in college.

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soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. J.V.Hodgson

    Only in America could the subject of womens (or mens fashion for that matter) end up being a discussion about racism or reverse racism.
    In fact I dont see the need to define racism with the adjective reverse!! Racism is racism. It is defined by whether one male or female attacks, ridicules or diminishes a person purely because of colour of skin or country of origin.
    Racism is not just between white and coloured people.

    August 1, 2010 at 12:39 am |
  2. Kim

    Good luck Ellianna Placas ! She sounds very qualified and sure to get the job done. Today we're all the colors of a rainbow.

    July 31, 2010 at 11:24 pm |
  3. Larry

    As Dr. King said, 'judge a person by their character, not by the color of their skin!'

    It is good to see white students being admitted to traditionally 'black' colleges such as Morehouse College in Atlanta.

    July 31, 2010 at 10:43 pm |
  4. Larry

    Why are there movie industry awards that are only for people of color; yet the Academy Awards are color-blind?

    July 31, 2010 at 10:35 pm |
  5. lynn

    More of us were upset when Essence was sold to Time-Warner. SOME of us like seeing our 'sisters' & 'brothers' in highly paid, successful positions; whereas for a 'mainstream' company we would not have been a consideration for any job above cleaning person.
    Essence was special because it was made
    to prove a few points; mainly that black people could put out a publication that could rival Vogue, etc; yet also be Afro-centric and successful. Essence is no longer a 'source of pride' for our culture; it's just another fashion magazine with too many ads. Sophia Nelson should have asked WHY black women were upset about the change, rather than write such a race-baiting article herself (yes, I know that she is black). This is more about our people having their cultural institutions assimilated than an actual race issue. Sorry CNN; you've missed the boat with this article.

    July 31, 2010 at 2:00 pm |
  6. me

    By the way "reverse racism" does NOT exist! Ask any of you Black colleagues, attorneys and scholars! Just Impossible to explain to white people.

    July 31, 2010 at 1:32 pm |
  7. Kalohe

    I'm glad they hired that woman for her talents...I haven't been a fan, or cared for that magazine because I honestly feel like I don't belong reading it. I am not into gossip mags, and I'm too young for Home and Garden, and Cosmo is just disgusting, and nothing a young lady should be reading. Maybe Essence will just start being about all women, because in reality we're all the same, despite color unless we choose to talk and act different.

    July 31, 2010 at 1:23 pm |
  8. Meredith

    As usually the term racism is being misused. Essence like every other, is selling out so it can be " taken to the next level" and get those very high end brands. ((Deep sigh)) Sad, but true

    July 31, 2010 at 12:45 pm |
  9. Theresa

    I live in Memphis, Tn. which is 80% black. Sometimes there is reverse discrimination which is unfair also. A person is not a color but and equal human being-I respect the human race.

    July 31, 2010 at 12:33 pm |
  10. ambria

    where i come from(huntsville,AL) race is not an issue. i think we got over racism a longtime ago.Nobody likes everyone but around here you dont have to worry about your skin color. we laugh at people who have the race issue thing.i guess some folks didn't get the memo.

    July 31, 2010 at 11:34 am |
  11. Levi Johnson

    'Many black women upset because Essence hired white fashion director'. I understand that CNN along with Soledad O'Brien believe that they are the experts on black women and black life but you guys need to get a clue. Most black women have a life and are working very hard just trying to survive in this cold unkind world. Most of us don't read bushwazee magazines operated by snobs who are out of touch with reality. Most of us don't gave a damn about what Halle Berry is wearing. Essence magazine have been struggling for years now because many blacks can't afford and don't want to read about who Halle Berry is dating and her being on all the Essence Magazine covers every other month. Black Women do have a life and most of them aren't going to waste there times worrinyg about a white woman being the fashion editor. Give me a break and stop the racial generalizations of people and please stop the race BAITING. Did CNN along with Soledad O'Brien and Anderson Copper go around taking a poll of every living breathing black women and asked them how they felt about Essence new fashion editor? Of course those black women where angry right? Please cut the crap and go back covering your fake BP oil Spill news

    July 31, 2010 at 11:21 am |
  12. J Dario Cuicas

    I am not a woman nor a black individual. I'm just a human being, not different from others
    on the basis of color, race, gender, nationality or sexual orientation but different only based on my own persona, education, mindset and qualifications. I pray that we may all soon see the day when labels such as Black, Caucasian, African-American, Latino-American and hundred of labels more...are not longer used in my beloved U.S.A.

    July 31, 2010 at 10:54 am |
  13. DryerBuzz

    Is it news because its trending or trending because its news? The lines are starting to blur.

    Essence is still going through a major change starting with the sale of Essence. If readers/subscribers returned after the sale then all other arguments are mute right? If readers were not heart broken and upset that the magazine could not create generational wealth for the original owners because of the barriers in publishing, then an uproar over one position of employment is out of place.

    The magazine was starved of advertising before the sale but grew thicker with ads after the sale. The faces in the new ads changed looking very much unlike Black women. The transitional content is borderline on insulting as they find their new target. But there in lies the teachable moment. We have to do better in picking our battles. In the larger picture, Essence is poised and can be positioned to celebrate women and many aspect of our lifestyles that we do have in common rather than the one aspect we do not which is race.

    July 31, 2010 at 10:01 am |
  14. me

    First of all we (as Black people) hardly have enough magazines for our people. Most are white. Why can't this editor apply for the other millions of those magazines? It's not racist it the truth. I am now done looking at Essence, and you too Cooper for suggesting it. White people will NEVER understand apparently.

    July 31, 2010 at 9:29 am |
  15. Kim

    See the person and not their skin color or nationality. Racism is truly ignorance of mind ,body,heart and soul.

    July 30, 2010 at 11:22 pm |