Friday, August 22, 2014

What A Sellout Looks Like...

I just finished reading The Man From Essence by Edward Lewis. For those of you who don't know he was 1 of 4 black men who started Essence Magazine. After reading his book I have a few thoughts...

Once upon a time Essence Magazine was actually a good magazine. Under Susan Taylor's leadership it was a great magazine that made black women all over this country proud. She took that magazine and put it on the map. Under her careful eye it became something of a legend. For decades it was the only magazine devoted solely to black women (though the magazine always went a little heavy with editorials about/featuring black men). 

Like all things associated with Black Americans....what goes up tends to come crashing down.... 

Ed Lewis managed to outsmart all his business partners out of the company one-by-one. Most went unwillingly. Legal battles were fought. Friendships were broken. People were fired. Eventually, Ed Lewis was the last man standing. What did he do with his new found power? He and the other stockholders decided to sell Essence Magazine to Time Inc. And with the sell Essence, like other black businesses that have been sold to whites, began a downward spiral. 

Essence today is a shadow of its former self. Instead of interesting stories about black women's lives the magazine is filled with fluff and celebrity news. Because we've run out of interesting black celebrities that people actually want to read about we get 2-4 cover stories a year featuring The Obamas. When we're not reading about The Obamas we get to read about 70% of black women being single (or not married). The decline of black marriage. The decline of black men. The decline of the black family. The decline of black education. The decline of black employment. The decline of black America period. 

Readers, like myself, have tuned out. It doesn't help that Essence has made some very questionable hiring decisions (i.e., a white fashion editor) and the reality that white women from Time Inc. now stand over all the black women working at Essence.

I can honestly say I detest Ed Lewis. 

I didn't know a damn thing about him or any of his business partners prior to reading this book. However, what I know now makes we sick! 

This man loves to toot his own horn while badmouthing everyone else. He throws all of his business partners under the bus. Reading the book I guess we, the readers, are supposed to like him and not them. Well, things don't work out like that. His business partners come across as more likeable than him. This brings me to my next point...

Essence was probably doomed for failure from the get go. It's clear that Essence was just a BUSINESS for the men who started the company. I'm fairly certain that the black women in the editorial department saw it as more than just a business. It was a BLACK business employing black women from all walks of life. It was a BLACK business that provided opportunity for black women who in the late 1960s and early 1970s had NO opportunity. It was an escape from corporate WHITE America. Mostly importantly of all, it was a business that focused on their needs, feelings, and desires. 

I imagine working at Essence must have been comparable to my experience at Spelman College (the historic black women's college). Being in an environment where everyone looks like you and has their shit together is both inspiring, encouraging, and nurturing. It's an environment like no other. 

Do you think Ed Lewis and his partners gave a damn about any of the above? Hell no!

History has shown us that black men (collectively) are seemingly incapable of thinking about anyone but themselves. Whether it be business or the black community, they are always going to look out for themselves first and foremost. If it means going from being a millionaire to a billionaire and selling their employees, companies, and community down the drain (ex. BET) they will do it in a heartbeat. Essence was doomed for failure because black men (those who started it) had no emotional connection to the business. They saw $$$....that's about it. 

I have no doubt that Essence would still be black had it been started by BLACK WOMEN. It would still be good if black women owned it. It would still be a source of information and pride for black women if black women owned.

The takeaway lesson from Essence (and most other successful black companies that have been sold to whites) Black women don't need to get invested in ANY business started by black men because 9.5 times out of 10 it will eventually change hands. Don't believe me? Do your research!
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