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Opinion: Obama’s Message to Essence Magazine Readers

Opinion: Obama’s Message to Essence Magazine Readers

Published July 30, 2010

Two history-making moments happened this month. President Obama became the first sitting president to appear on a daytime talk show (The View), and Essence magazine hired a white fashion editor.

Of course, America’s reaction to any show on which Obama appears will be extreme. It’ll either be “oh my God, I love Barack and my boo better start acting like him (or Michelle),” or “oh my God, he’s a socialist and he’s about to bring ‘The Apocalypse’.” So, there’s no real use arguing many of Obama’s points on The View…save for one simple point he made: resist the urge to assume the worst about people who are different from you.

After hearing this point, I’d hoped that a few Essence magazine readers, who’d flung their arms in uproar over Essence’s white fashion editor, were watching.

Obama had made this point after View host Whoopi Goldberg asked him “who are we…Mr. President… what are we?” in reference to race in this country. He responded: “we’re American.” And while racism and discrimination are still entrenched in our society, he said, we should try our darndest to resist what he called the “reptilian side of our brains,” the side that triggers us to “become cautious” whenever we see somebody that “looks different” or “sounds different” from us.

Sure, we’ve heard such Kumbaya-Bama lines before. In fact, many of us have subscribed to them. Yet, we never consider just how much our commitment to multiculturalism requires. Not only must we fight injustices directed against us, we must also fight those “reptilian” voices in our heads that cause us to reject others because of their whiteness.

Sound familiar, Essence readers?

Can’t our generation be the generation that brings back the “au naturelle” styles that pivot black beauty—and, simultaneously, be the generation that could care less if Essence hires a white editor or if a brotha marries a white woman? Seriously. Who cares? The new fashion editor, Elliana Placas, at Essence may not be as cocoa-lovely or mocha-amazing or butterscotch-banging as you, and she may not have the fluffy, African ‘fro you’ve worked so hard to grow and condition every morning, but she just may have valid talents to offer the predominantly black female lifestyle magazine.

Based on the Essence editor-in-chief’s description of Placas’ hiring, Placas doesn’t seem like some wayward woman who will rip the soul from Essence and convert all its fashion pages into bourgie and booty-unfriendly wear.

So, what are we afraid of sisters? More importantly, why are we afraid? Why is the presence of whiteness so frightening in the context of black progress? We cannot continue to be crippled by feelings of hurt and outrage spurred by other people’s racist attitudes. We cannot, and should not, adapt the culture of discrimination passed down from a bitter and shameful history of slave owners, and what I’ll now call Fox News’ Reptilian Republicans—who make the more rational members of their party look bad.

Let the hate be for the haters. Skin aside, I want to be treated well, and treat others just as well. “I’m less interested in how we label ourselves, and more interested in how we treat each other,” Obama said on the show.

I agree.

China Okasi is the senior editor of MadameNoire.com

Written by China Okasi

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