As a writer for a black women’s website I kind of operate in a bubble where I see and experience black womanhood at all times. Crazy as it may sound, I often forget — or bury — the fact that outlets for women of color, both online and in print, are few and far between until I find myself in an airport desperately searching for a magazine that appeals to me. More often than not I come up short.
And then “The Body Brigade” showed up; more specifically Ebony showed up. The iconic magazine most had assumed would, sooner rather than later, go the way of its baby sister Jet and fade into oblivion, made a decision to evolve with the times while still remaining true to its original mission of celebrating African-American life and culture. And that decision is right on time.
While many covers have caught readers’ eyes since Desiree Rogers was named CEO of Ebony’s publisher Johnson & Johnson in 2010 and Amy DuBois Barnett was editor-in-chief, never has the mag so consistently slayed, so to speak, in recent years since Kierna Mayo took the reigns as EIC and seemingly made a choice to pick up where many in black media fell off, finding a way to be proactive, authentic, and authoritative when it comes to the issues that matter most to its readers: The African-American community.
The November 2015 issue seems to mark the starting point of Ebony re-establishing itself as an outlet black people could go to discuss sensitive matters of utmost importance to us with “The Family Issue(s)” Cosby vs. Cliff cover. Instead of simply observing the dichotomy of conspiracy theorists versus black loyalists as it relates to Bill Cosby and the rape allegations heralded against him, Ebony chose to put the issue front and center, as other mainstream outlets such as the New York Daily News and NY Mag have done, becoming the only place where black people — who have a unique stake in this situation — could discuss rape, legacy, and racial loyalty in a safe space in black and white.
The magazine followed that brave issue with “Power (100) to the People” featuring Harry Belafonte, Jesse Williams, and Zendaya Coleman for the December 2015/January 2016 issue, speaking out about racial injustices and activism in light of the rampant cases of police brutality plaguing our community. The annual black love issue succeeded that cover which brought us to “The Body Brigade,” a celebration of plus-size beauties Gabi Gregg, Chrisette Michelle, Danielle Brooks, and Jazmine Sullivan, on the cover of the magazine’s March 2016 issue.
— gabifresh (@gabifresh) March 5, 2016
The timing of this cover is impeccable when you consider all the curvy conversations surrounding the pioneering plus-size Sports Illustrated cover model Ashley Graham as well as the debates over Adele’s success versus equally talented full-figured singers of color. To put it in today’s vernacular, the cover is everything. And it’s been a long time since we’ve been able to authentically say that from a mainstream, trending point of view.
While Essence has made a concerted effort to step outside of its predictable covers in recent months and we appreciate the invaluable business savvy of Black Enterprise, the refocusing of Ebony has reaffirmed its necessity as the black version of Life magazine. It may be inappropriate to say this as a writer, but anybody can throw their opinion about something on the interwebs and gain a few followers and likes here and there, but it takes a conscious effort to challenge mainstream standards and say you don’t want black people to have to filter their understanding of an issue relevant to us through a white lens and establish yourself as a news authority for people of color in a time when it’s so desperately needed.
Sure, beauty and health tips catered to me as a black woman are nice, but I far more appreciate discussions about race and the reality of my skin tone from not just a writer who looks like me but an entire staff of women who look like me and have made a concerted effort to respect the sensitivities of a particular issue and penetrate the mainstream with their take on it, as is seen with the March 2016 issue which has been picked up by every outlet from Cosmo to Buzzfeed and in between.
White acceptance is certainly not the pinnacle, but what is paramount is we be allowed to tell out stories ourselves. Ebony is making is so that we can tell our stories with critical discourse and pride in a day and age where print is treated like the tyrannosaurus rex.
I thank Ebony, not for giving me reading material on a long flight, but for being a place on the newsstand where the serious issues that effect my day-to-day life matter. In a time where we are questioning our exclusion and asking why we don’t “just create our own,” I am thankful to Ebony for doing just that and giving black men and women something to look forward to when it comes to discourse and representation.