Reading Essence

Had a nice, long conversation with one of my besties T this past weekend.  And somewhere in the usual hilarity, she mentioned, in passing, something she read in Essence Magazine.

Now I don’t have many friends who are avid magazine readers and even the ones that are in the industry and keep up as part of their own professional development. But T is one of the exceptions and I’ve always been struck by her commitment to Essence.  I didn’t grow up in a household with black magazines on the table; I didn’t know any Puerto Ricans who called themselves part of the Johnson Publishing family.  Which is sad to say–having them around may have given me and my sisters a stronger, more confident self-image.  And sad in general considering Latina was only founded in the late 90s and it damn near immediately went for the European-standard of Latina beauty, completely ignoring the fact that a significant percentage of the Latina/o community is of quite visible indigenous and African descent (how you think we got here, familia?).

Instead, I became interested in Essence after Time-Warner purchased it (on the heels of the purchase and sad to see another black-owned media fall to capitalist interests).  And concerned with the critique from across the blogosphere (including myself) about the portrayal of black women in the media and especially in places like Essence.  As you can imagine, my opinion is pretty skewed.

But T’s mention got me thinking so while I was on a random CVS run, I picked up the latest issue.  Janet is on the cover–okay, check.  Ciara has a spread and Queen Latifah smiles out from the glossy pages in all her fabulous-ness–cool.  And flipping through I was struck by how normal it seemed.  Average.  Unimpressive.  But the prospect of purchasing a subscription lingered in the back of my mind–why not?  If we don’t have Essence, what do we have?

Then I read Honorée Fanonne Jeffers’ post today.  And everything she said, from the history of the mag to the white-black (or light-dark) ratio inside, to the back of the bus placement of poems, stories, news and essays was DEAD on–and put me in a foul mood with the magazine.

I can’t claim Jeffers long relationship with Essence.  All I have is the love I always feel for sisters and spaces where sisters congregate.  Essence, in my mind, is still one of those spaces.

But even to me Essence is like that one family member that is always slapping you down on the low, that is cordial because you are kin but feels no responsibility for you, that serves the best Sunday dinner but in subtle and not so subtle ways let’s you know that you aren’t good enough to really sit there because you really aren’t light enough, well dressed enough, hair straightened enough, accomplished enough, wealthy enough or black enough all at the same time.  Making you want to drop her off on the rowdiest block in the city and watch her talk that shit again…

Except she’s your sister.  And how do you do that to family?

I don’t know if I’ll subscribe.  It feels like signing up to be hurt again and again.  But I’ll add to my RSS reader.  Because sometimes you have to love family despite themselves.  And cultivate other loves in the meantime.


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