By Raynard Jackson
I wrote a column three years ago titled, “Black Women No Longer Have Their Essence.” My point was that Essence, the pre-eminent magazine for Black women, had become irrelevant and an embarrassment to the Black community. Unfortunately, Essence has continued its decent into irrelevancy.
For 20 years, Essence has sponsored an annual party during the July 4th holiday known as the Essence Music Festival (EMF). According to their website, the EMF, “known as the party with a purpose, is an annual music festival which started in 1995 as a one-time event to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Essence, a magazine aimed primarily towards African-American women. It is the largest event celebrating African-American culture and music in the United States.”
According to media accounts, “…In 2008, for the first time since its 1995 inception, the festival was not produced by the original producer team. Instead, Essence Communications, owner of the festival and the Essence magazine, contracted Rehage Entertainment Inc. A new main stage facelift was designed by production designer Stefan Beese.” Essence Communications and Essence Magazine are no longer Black-owned, they are owned by Time Inc.
Maybe this would explain why EMF contracted with Rehage Entertainment Inc. and Stefan Beese to produce the event and to build a new stage. They couldn’t find a Black firm capable of taking on these contracts? If they need some referrals, I would be glad to send them a list of Black people who could do the job, if they are truly interested in the “empowerment” of the Black community as they claim.
There was also no diversity in the programming. Of their 86 “empowerment” speakers during their various daytime panels, all were media personalities, journalist, or liberal politicians. There were maybe three people who one could argue were businessmen, but that’s a stretch. As far as I can tell, there were no Republicans invited to participate, as though Essence has no Black female Republican readers?
One panel was about the hair texture of Jay Z and Beyoncé’s baby. Yes, you heard me right; Essence had a whole panel to discuss a child’s nappy hair. One news account said, “Essence Magazine recently hosted an Empowerment Beauty of Confidence panel to comment on the backlash [over the child’s hair]. Essence asked Cynthia Bailey, Kim Kimble, Chenoa Maxwell, Tomiko Frasier Hines, Soledad O’Brien and Wendy Raquel Robinson to comment on the backlash.”
There were no empowerment panels on the women who work in the White House for Obama being paid less than their male counterparts; there were no empowerment panels on why Obama never interviewed a Black female lawyer for the two Supreme Court nominations he made to the Court; there were no empowerment panels on the number of Black kids languishing in the foster care system while Obama wants to throw billions of dollars to support children coming to this country illegally.
In essence, Essence’s continued march towards irrelevancy has nothing to do with them being White-owned. They were well down that road before they were sold. One could make the argument that the articles in Essence have become less substantive after Time Inc. assumed leadership, not that substance was ever their hallmark.
How can you talk about “empowerment” without talking about Lynn Hutchings, a State Representative in the Wyoming legislature? She is the first Black female Republican to serve in the state’s history. How can you talk about “empowerment” without talking about J’Tia Taylor, who has a Ph.D in nuclear engineering from the University of Illinois; she started college at the age of 15. How can you talk about “empowerment” without talking about Ambassador Bonnie Jenkins, the State Department’s Coordinator for Threat Reduction Programs? Ambassador Jenkins has a Ph.D. in international relations from the University of Virginia, an LL.M. in international and comparative law from the Georgetown University Law Center, an M.P.A. from the State University of New York at Albany, a J.D. from Albany Law School; and a B.A. from Amherst College. She also attended The Hague Academy for International Law.
You have such accomplished women – Democrats and Republicans – yet Essence is talking about the texture of a child’s hair.
Raynard Jackson is president & CEO of Raynard Jackson & Associates, LLC., a Washington, D.C.-based public relations/government affairs firm. He can be reached through his Web site, www.raynardjackson.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @raynard1223.