Essence, a magazine for black women, hired a white woman as its fashion editor. But Some people are upset! Do the same rules apply for a straight person who wants to work at a gay magazine?
We have this thing about “immutable characteristics” around these parts. Namely, that they don’t impact your job qualifications, which is why Judge Vaughn Walker, a gay man, is just as competent to rule on Prop 8 as a straight judge. But when it comes to a magazine, knowing the culture of your readership is crucial. Which means Ellianna Placas, the white gal who worked at O and Us Weekly before Essence, must know fashion and style that’s of interest to black women. And maybe she does!
But that’s not good enough for Michaela Angela Davis, the founding fashion director of Vibe and Honey‘s former editor-in-chief, who took to Facebook to attack Essence and Placas: “It’s with a heavy heart I’ve learned that Essence magazine has engaged a white fashion director,” she wrote. “The fashion industry has historically been so hostile to black people — especially women. The seat reserved for black women once held by Susan Taylor, Ionia Dunn-Lee, Harriette Cole (+ me) is now — I can’t. It’s a dark day for me.”
She’s got a point: The fashion industry is still an exclusive club reserved mostly for skinny white women; black women have had to chart their own course (though many would argue it’s turned out well, given the number of talented black designers and voracious consumers).
Though for us gays, and in particular gay men, fashion has always been a place where we were accepted — and ruled. And so too has media. You might’ve heard the gays share the media throne with Jews? So maybe when it comes to gay media, keeping out the straights is less of an issue of logistics and more one of principle.
Moreover, maybe this is a chance for Essence to actually help set the tone in fashion, by putting forth a more diverse perspective than any traditional white fashion magazine (Vogue, Elle, Marie Claire) has ever done.
I’d argue you don’t have to be gay to work at a gay magazine (although, haha, there are so few of them left that you probably won’t get the job anyhow) for the same reason you can be trans and work at a “straight” magazine (including, let’s say, Essence). But you absolutely must know about the experience of your readership, and it’s certainly an easier task when you are a part of the community instead of just an observer.
Which is why, at this website, over the years we’ve had actual heterosexuals work with us. They edited copy. They found stories. Sometimes they even wrote them! But whenever it came to drafting a post about what it is to be queer, a LGBT byline would always appear. Because while immutable characteristics don’t determine whether you’re capable of doing a job, they do determine whether you can be an author of an experience.
Also, straight butt fetches great coffee.