Essence Hires a White Male for Managing Editor Role, Ignores Sentiments of Readership

July 13, 2011  |  

By Alexis Garrett Stodghill

After hiring a white female fashion director last year caused a great deal of disappointment in the black community, Essence magazine has recently chosen to hire a white man to serve as managing editor. Rumors have been circulating  for days concerning this decision, which was first reported by writer Christelyn Karazin. Essence editor-in-chief Constance White (who is relatively new to her role) confirmed that Michael Bullderdick will in fact step into this executive position at Essence,  “to manage production and workflow,” according to the black media blog Journal-isms. White stresses that Bullderdick will have no editorial decision making power at the magazine that promotes itself as the brand “where black women come first.”

Karazin notes the irony of the Essence tag line in her piece, given that the editorial message of the magazine expresses a lack of appreciation for black women. Of particular note is the way Essence sells out black women regarding love, in her opinion:

Personally, I care not about Mr. Bullerdick swinging his manhood all over the New York offices of Time Warner.  It was inevitable.  Essence has become completely irrelevant to a new segment of black women who actually feel like their smarts, looks and loyalty should be appreciated by ALL men, of all races, not just by the yearly dog-bone, “10 Black Men Who Want You!” piece geared to stroke the egos of men whose heads are bigger than a Dodger’s baseball bobblehead, and frankly don’t need it any more.  They won.  We lost.

Essence has taught us over the last few decades that black women should expect LESS not MORE from their partners.  We should not expect to be married, because black men don’t want to.  We shouldn’t expect help with raising a child, because 73% of black men don’t want to.  We shouldn’t speak about how educated or well-travelled we are, because it makes black men feel inadequate.

She articulates well the feeling many African-American women have: Essence is out of touch. It has been slowly devolving into a company merely making a product that satisfies black women just enough to attract advertisers seeking to target that market. Choosing a white man to run a black woman’s magazine even at the business level is yet another public rejection of the mission Essence magazine claims to believe in. It’s certainly not black female centric.

Hiring white fashion director Elliana Placas caused a fiery backlash that may have cost the previous editor-in-chief her job. Why would Essence make a similar mistake again?

Yes, Bullderdick is a magazine industry veteran, according to his profile on LinkedIn. And yes, Time Warner, the parent company of Essence, is a hard-nosed business before it is a servant of the African-American community. At the same time, Essence was founded to address the exclusion of black women’s perspectives from mainstream magazines. Because of this, it has a social responsibility to its audience to work towards publishing industry parity on all levels. Attempting to support this mission is one of the reasons black women read the magazine. By ignoring that central idea, yet again, Essence gives more African-American females cause to detach itself from the brand and seek affirming emotional nourishment elsewhere.

Michael Bullderdick might be a great executive, but part of the reason he is so seasoned is that, as a white male, he has more doors of opportunity open to him. This is what allowed him to garner the experience that makes him seem more valuable. But, hiring him to run a black woman’s magazine based on that criteria defeats the purpose of the publication. It re-inscribes the very system of preferences that prevent black women from attaining the same level of expertise at other magazines in the first place. Essence should be a training ground for black female magazine executives, not a place where — yet again– they are excluded from the top levels of leadership. Readers know this intuitively, and will respond to this rejection by rejecting the magazine in return.

Not a very sound business decision. No amount of experience Bullderdick has can counteract the effect of his presence creating a magazine black women don’t want to read.

Attempts at colorblind hiring are driven by noble and money-smart intentions. But in instances like these, it negates the healing power a brand like Essence symbolizes. Black women want an entity like Essence to represent us well and give us power — of all kinds — shining like a beacon that compensates for the inadequate treatment the rest of society presents. If the upper managers of Time Warner keep ruining the spiritual gift of the brand, they will soon find themselves without the audience they are taking for granted.

For now, it’s clear that Essence is a magazine where money comes first. The desires of black women? Second or third, if at all.


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