Essence Magazine has made the interesting and controversial decision to hire a white male as its managing editor. I cocked my head to the side when I heard about the move by Editor-in-Chief Constance White to let Michael Bullerdick, a white male, run the day-to-day operations of a magazine which prides itself on being a voice for African American women. Constance went out of her way to do damage control on the decision by stating that Bullerdick would have no say on the editorial content of Essence.
“He has no involvement in editorial content of the black women’s publication,” the new Essence editor-in-chief, Constance White, told Journal-isms on Tuesday.
Do I buy White’s statement completely? No. It’s hard to imagine that a Managing Editor would not have an impact on which voices are reflected and how they are presented. That’s like Clarence Thomas saying that his wife’s conservative activism has no impact on his decisions as a Supreme Court justice. There’s a big difference between true separation of powers and the separation that simply looks good on an organizational chart.
This is not the first time Essence has gotten attention for putting a non-black person in a powerful position. There was some degree of public concern when Ellianna Placas was selected as the Fashion Director for the magazine, overlooking scores of seasoned and talented black women who can’t get jobs at other magazines. While one has to applaud those who simply believe that the best people are being chosen for these opportunities, we must also wonder if a black man could be named Managing Editor of a magazine for Jewish women.
I thought long and hard on this one, to ensure that I didn’t say anything that would be unfair to Bullerdick, a man who surely worked hard to earn his opportunities. At the same time, there must be consideration for the long list of talented black women who may have wanted this job, but find nearly every door to be shut in an industry that is owned by white folks. I’d love to see what lies in Bullerdick’s background that makes him a stronger voice for black women than black women themselves. Perhaps a group of black women should be used to make serious editorial decisions at Essence, rather than allowing the Editor-in-Chief to simply hire her professional friends. There is too much at stake for Essence leadership structure to be defined by cronyism.
You can hear more of my thoughts in the video below.