Monday, August 2, 2010

The Disappointed Soul Sista's Solution To The Slow Sad Death Of Essence Magazine

I stopped subscribing to Essence magazine when long-time editor-in-chief, Susan L. Taylor left in 2000. I stopped buying Essence from the newsstand on a occasional basis when Time Inc. purchased the magazine and began filling issues with more advertisements than stories, particularly advertisements that had little to due with improving, enhancing, or enriching the lives of African American women. The slow death of Essence Magazine had begun then, the essential magazine for African American women from 18 to 80 was beginning it's transformation into a high gloss version of Vogue magazine in blackface.

I haven't personally bought a copy of Essence since 2001, only poaching a copy from a random culturally sensitive doctor or dentist's office or flipping through my mom's copies when I was visiting her during Christmas. She has since let her subscription lapse shortly after President Barack Obama got elected. My sister was never a fan of the magazine, but she too, had enjoyed random issues from time to time. Just like many other black women, Essence Magazine was a regular staple and standard in my life, my hard-earned travels to become a grown-ass black woman.

In the last ten years, Essence has become a shadow of it's former self. Slow to report on cutting edge issues in the African American community, way to fast to become a lightweight Hollywood promotional tool, clueless and tentative on issues where black women needed a fearless advocate. Current editor, Angela Burt-Murray continues to fail to impress, remember her tone-deaf words of wisdom during CNN's Black in America series? What About Our Daughters offers a blistering take-down of Burt-Murray's seriously stupid response to the latest controversy over Essence recently hiring it's first non-African American fashion editor.

Just a thought, but it would have made more sense if Burt-Murray had called out the long tradition of black women journalists long struggle to be hired at white women's magazines instead of calling out her loyal black female readership. Think about her choice for a long while. Which group was easier to attack? Others have lots to say on this issue, here, here, here, here, and here. For me, I'll let one my black female heroes speak on this issue in the Words For Warfare post above.

My only questions are why isn't one of most cutting edge black fashion directors in the nation being asked to work at Essence during it's 40th anniversary year? Isn't time to be celebrating instead of creating controversy? Why did it take so damn long for Essence to find a fashion editor in the first place? Something is stinking up the joint big time here. How can a magazine that is primarily about fashion, struggle so hard to find a fashion editor? And what happens the first time Ms. Placas screws up with something that is perceived as a racial slight or faux pas?

What I really can't stand is all the pointless anger and inaction that the slow, sad, death of Essence Magazine has generated. Keep it simple folks. Don't get angry, get even. Stop buying Essence, period. I did it, you can do it too. There is no rule that says black women need to keep buying it. If you don't like the direction of the magazine, put it down! Keep it moving. Start reading Clutch Magazine or many of the numerous blogs written by black women for black women.

How about starting a new magazine? Put it online, get some money or ads for a print edition, put it on stolen copy paper from work written in crayon, I don't care, just do something other than whine about how Essence sold out black women. That's what white women would do! And we already knew that Essence had sold out to big time publications when Time, Inc. bought it, so lets stop acting brand new here. Let's be the bad ass black women Essence magazine used to tell us we could be in the era of Susan L. Taylor.


Tammy August 2, 2010 at 12:57 PM  


First, I enjoy your blog. I've been a lurker (in a good sense of the word), and I enjoy your thoughtful commentary and occasional trips down memory lane with respect to movies, music etc.

However, I felt compelled to comment because I completely agree with your comments on this matter. I think only your blog and WAOD noted the only logical response to this- DON'T BUY THE MAGAZINE.

I'm in my 30's and Essence (or as I like to call it (Messence) is nothing like the magazine I grew up with. Now it is nothing more than recylced articles (really, how many times can they feature the same articles of how to get you a good black man?), filled with advertisements and has very little meaningful content. Also, what was the deal with hiring a former SNL comedian (Finese) to give love and relationship advice to black women? Do you see Vogue or Woman's Day going to Larry the Cable Guy or Dane Cook for relationship advice for women?

Also, whatever happened to the magazine featuring models? Every month its the same people (Beyonce, the Obamas, Halle Berry). If they are going the route of featuring Hollywood actors and attresses, mix it up a bit. Why not use your wide readership to help promote attresses such as N'Bushe Wright or singers such as N'Dambi. Those ladies are lovely and would certainly sell many a magazine covers.

The action of hiring a non-black fashion editor does not surprise me one bit, and if I were a subscriber to Messence, I would be taken aback by the editor in chief's comments, but I don't subscribe so I'm not offended. Also, I find the timing of this announcement by Essence very interesting since Conde Nast passed on doing a Vogue Africa.

Black women can whine and complain all day about the unfairness of it all and how this is (another) slap in the face to Black woman (can we say Reggie Bush being on the Feb cover of the magazine? That's black love for ya!). I too am a firm believer in using your money to speak for itself.

If women just cancelled their subscriptions, then Essence would have no choice but to get it's act together (or just go away period).

However, as long as people blindly toss good money after bad subscribing to that rag, hoping that one day, some day, Essence will become what it was years ago, then it will always be business as usual for Essence and the company that owns it.

Unekwu August 4, 2010 at 1:28 PM  

We cant win for losing. We are shut out of mainstream print ads and magazines. we complain about it and are told to make are own magazines if we don't like the status quo. we do this. NOW a white person is coming to take over the fashion section of the magazine. We complain that this isnt right. I mean, how easy is it for a black fashion editor to come in and get picked up by Vogue, Elle et al? When we voice this frustrations we are called "racist" for seeing the hypocrisy of it all.

I hope MESSence goes down in flames!

Hathor August 5, 2010 at 7:52 AM  

I can't believe anyone would be upset about the new hire, since Time bought it. That is when I was upset, but the magazine had changed long before that and I long ago stopped reading it; not even in the shopping line.

The idea of that online magazine is percolating, but I think in the huge world of the net, committed people have to have a way to find each other.

Anonymous,  August 9, 2010 at 8:49 AM  

[quote]we do this.[/quote]

No, actually we DIDN'T do this. Once again we relied on black men to have our back and once again they had no such thing. I stopped reading Essence decades ago when I became conscious of the fact that it is not now, nor has it been by US (black women), or for us. I recall all those crazy articles about man-sharing and constant "black man" issues. Why a magazine that's supposed for black women was constantly full of talk about endangered black men is beyond my comprehension. I say good riddance to bad rubbish.

upfromsumdirt September 24, 2010 at 9:03 AM  

as with every other sector of american society, white-mainstream-commercialism is part of the package that black folks had to buy into in order to secure our civil rights - assimilation is a one-way street. but our elders didnt foresee the complete disintegration of the black community when full submersion into mainstream america occurred.
every thriving black community with black-owned businesses catering to its needs has vanished in the wake of full integration, replaced by strip malls with white chain stores.
the school system.
the black press.
local black businesses.
it's all become a sham, a shadow of what they once used to mean to our survival in america. paradigms have shifted without our input on the matter - this is what happens when a diverse society says it has "one, cultural voice" - we all fall inline to the mainstream aesthetic.

us whining about the loss of meaningful content in the media is now a significant part of what it means to black in this mainstreamed america...

yes, we must once again empower ourselves! there will be no money in the process, but there will be pride, respect and collective well-being. let's get our psychological health back up and running and then we can look into how we can make an honest living of our creations and crafts.

publish with crayons?
i call dibs on the orange ones!

lincolnperry October 20, 2010 at 3:13 PM  

YOUR SOCIAL COMMENTARY HAS BEEN MISSED, there is too much going on for you not to post Professor, and stop making crank calls to Anita Hill's office at 7:30am! ROFL

The Church Lady February 2, 2011 at 11:38 PM  

Black women should start their own magazine... the web makes it easier.

LaTosha Brown May 3, 2011 at 6:23 PM  

Sister, I totally agree with your comments. The entire look and spirit of Essence has left. I have met Susan Taylor a few times and she is a beautiful and spirit filled sister. I guess that All Things Have A Season.

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