Why Do Black Women Need A Magazine? Isn't That Racist?
Me: Yeah, I'm working on starting a magazine.
Her: Cool. What's it about?
Me: Southern women of color. It's part lifestyle, part literary magazine.
Her: Great idea...but just a suggestion. I'd take the "of color" part off. I wouldn't limit it to that.
I'm not sure why ethnic media is perceived as being "racist", but I've run into this more than a few times. The first time I remember encountering this was as a teenager reading a letter to the editor in Essence Magazine from a white woman who was outraged that Essence existed. She lamented that, in her mind, publications like Essence caused more separation in an already disjointed society. And, she threw out one of the most popular quips that I've heard about this topic, one that those of us who support black media spend a lot of time debunking and explaining:
If white women started a magazine that was just for white women, that would be considered racist...why the double standard for black women?
Here's my answer in 3 reasons. Black women (and the black community) need black magazines...
For the same reason we need books about black people and black culture in bookstores and libraries.
I sometimes wonder if the people who have issues with black magazines and other media have problems with libraries and bookstores lending and selling books about black history, black literature, and other aspects of black culture. People typically read books about things that they want more information about, and that includes different cultures and ways of life. So, why don't people view magazines about black culture and life to be volumes that they can consult to learn more about black culture and life? What is it about the magazine format that makes people assume that all magazines must be relatable to any and everyone?
If someone were to come to the desk of any library or bookstore and request that all books about a particular culture be removed because they deemed them racist, that person would be considered an enemy to the basic American right to the freedom of information, and rightfully so. Books are a form of media. So are magazines. As Alfred Edmond Jr. said in this 2013 round table by HuffPostLive, the "divide" that black media supposedly creates would be closed if non-black people would consume black media at the rate that black people consume traditional media that we at times have no choice but to consume. Black media only seeks to provide options to an underserved population, which is no different than any other type of product.
Because a magazine that was truly multicultural would be 800 pages each month...and impossible to sustain.
As Temple University journalism professor Lori Tharps said in the aforementioned video, magazines are niche products marketed to a niche audience. That means that they target very specific, highly defined audiences. Every magazine on the market today is an example of this, and guess what? Culture and race sometimes play a part in determining how a magazine will be developed and launched. There is nothing wrong with this. I read Glamour, and I love it just the way it is, even though I'm hard pressed at times to see a woman who looks like me among the pages. That's because I understand that Glamour must appeal to its core audience to stay viable...in the same way that black magazines must appeal to their core audiences to stay viable. Once Glamour starts trying to be all things to all women, they will dilute themselves to a point where no one will relate to the content and they will tank. Since I understand this, I don't write letters to Glamour asking them why they don't devote half of their book each month to black women. I read Glamour to learn more about women who are not like me, and in the process I discover that there is much that we do have in common. I think the same will happen if Glamour's readers were to read Essence or Ebony. Why have a magazine that tries to do a mediocre job of doing everything for everyone when you can have magazines that target specialized audiences with content that is high quality, relevant, and specific?
Because our communities and our interests change and evolve everyday, and we need dedicated media to cover these things.
Black people are not a monolith. We have different desires, interests, and our culture has subcultures within it. Therefore, we need media to cover these aspects of our culture, and no one media outlet can do that for us all. We are complex. There are AfroPunks and black Southern Belles and black married couples with kids who all want to read stories that are pertinent to them. They all deserve to see these stories on media platforms that speak to them.
I think the thing I want people to take from this the most is that black media is not an enemy or a tool of division. Black media, just like any other media, can be a tool to learn about others not like yourself. That learning and subsequent understanding is the key to real cohesion in our country and beyond.