by Dr. Boyce Watkins
The revelations by former Essence Magazine editor Constance White both intrigued and concerned me. Last year, White revealed that she was fired after battling the magazine’s corporate overseer, Time Warner Inc. According to White, Essence was being pushed in a direction that she felt was designed to dumb down the black woman in America, focusing more on fashion and beauty tips than more serious issues of the day. This is a far cry from what Essence used to be when black people were truly running the show.
Not to say that I was surprised, but I admittedly long for the days when my friend Susan Taylor stood at the helm of the magazine, and Essence represented something black, extraordinary and authentic. There was a time when we fully understood that the power of media wasn’t just for making money, it was also for shaping minds. In fact, Adolph Hitler once said that if you want to control a group of people, all you have to do is control what they read, watch and hear.
For much of my life, when I thought about Essence Magazine, I thought about black women. Now, when I think about Essence, I think about what white people want black women to become. The mind can be under occupation in the same way that one colonizes a foreign country, and in the space of African American media, it’s difficult to argue that we’re not a conquered and imperialized group of people.
The pressure to assimilate is overwhelming when I look at how most of the radio stations our kids listen to are owned by big corporations like Clear Channel, who don’t care that commercialized hip-hop music is teaching young boys how to grow up and become murderers and r*pists. Television Networks like BET seem to believe that it should once again be illegal for black people to learn how to read. Even TV One, the “good version” of BET (a network that most of us respect), is 49% owned by NBC Universal, implying that they remain officially black-owned by a mere technicality.