Since Essence magazine's hiring of Elliana Placas, a White Australian woman, as their senior fashion director, the 40-year old publication has found itself at the center of a growing debate about race in the fashion and publishing industries. BET.com talked to former Essence Fashion Editor and noted author Harriette Cole who commented on the magazine's decision.
"This was an opportunity for diversity," says Cole. "Essence made a diverse choice. Some think that Essence is being a leader in showing diversity."
While many mainstream outlets actually agree with Cole, there has been quite a bit of backlash for the mag who maintains that Placas is the right fit. "I thought she'd make an excellent addition to our team," said Essence Editor In Chief Angela Burt-Murray in an opinion piece posted on theGrio.com. "And I still do. This decision in no way diminishes my commitment to Black women, our issues, our fights."
But when the news was announced, another former editor passionately expressed her concern with hiring Placas. Writer and cultural critic Michaela Angela Davis posted a message on her Facebook page that sparked a deeper debate. "It is with a heavy heart that I learned Essence magazine has engaged a White fashion director. I love Essence and I love fashion. I hate this news and this feeling. It hurts, literally."
VIDEO: Watch More of the Michaela Davis Interview
Davis defended what she wrote on CNN's 360 with Anderson Cooper, where she was able to clarify her position. "Essence was the first magazine that says in their brand that it is for Black women and their motto when I worked there was 'where Black women come first.'"
Cole says she understands why people are upset. There is sensitivity around this issue because of the few positions occupied by African-Americans in the industry. "There is a small minority in the fashion world," she explains. "I think that is why there is sensitivity. Essence historically was the training ground for African-American female talent."
The problem that both Davis and Cole seem to address is the handful of African-Americans that occupy major editorial positions at mainstream publications. It's this issue that the two former editors seem to want to focus on. Cole adds, "Many times when there is a racial question people usually take sides and nobody wins....This is an opportunity for the fashion industry to take a look at itself. It's a really closed industry. In this diverse world that we live in, I think there should be a lot more opportunity for everyone."