Richard Prince's Journal-isms™

Essence: Don't Judge Us by March Issue

Send by email
Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Most Women Pictured Seem to Be Wearing Wigs or Weaves

Obama Answers a Rare Question About the Poor

Bill Burton Leaving White House to Start Consulting Firm

Defector Who Fabricated Iraq's WMDs Admits He Lied

Black Businesses Increase at Triple the National Rate

Female Correspondents Are Targets in Lawless Places

Uptown Magazine Plans Quarterly "Uptown Professional"

CNN Examines Allegations of Ernest Withers' Dual Role

White House, WETA to Honor Motown Sound

Short Takes

"The wigs and weaves ... I suppose that's just 'fantasy' hair. But it's an unobtainable fantasy," said Danielle Belton, "the Black Snob."

Most Women Pictured Seem to Be Wearing Wigs or Weaves

The new issue of Essence magazine, delivered during Black History Month, might as well be renamed "Wigs and Weaves." The overwhelming number of images show black women wearing hair that isn't naturally theirs or doesn't seem to be.

The good news is that Essence says not to judge the magazine by March's "Black Women in Hollywood Awards" issue.

Essence replied to an observation from Journal-isms about the March issue that concluded, "in leafing through it, one theme comes through: A black woman isn't considered beautiful unless she is wearing a wig or a weave, or looks like it. Her own natural hair doesn't get it." It noted the "stark difference between the look of the women . . . in this issue of Essence and the variety . . . on the streets of Washington, D.C. . . . The diversity among the women in the 'On the Streets' feature seems to be exception, not the rule.

"Granted, much of this is due to the advertising Essence runs, but together with the editorial matter, they combine to articulate a point of view."

Essence spokeswoman Dana Baxter replied, "Making such a broad generalization based on just one issue of the magazine obscures the brand and its inclusiveness over the past 40 years. At the core of Essence’s mission is highlighting Black women’s inner and outer beauty, as well as celebrating her in all of her diversity, which we do every month in ESSENCE and everyday on"

Essence became the nation's largest-circulation magazine targeting African Americans at the end of 2010 as Ebony, the perennial leader, dropped further in circulation.

Both as a black-owned product and later as part of Time Inc., Essence, founded in 1970, has long helped to shape the tastes of impressionable black women. But it strove to celebrate black women "in all of her diversity," as Baxter's statement said. In an issue from exactly a decade ago, the March 2001 edition is introduced by Publication Director Susan L. Taylor, in her trademark braids, and Editor-in-Chief Monique Greenwood, in her natural twists. The rest of the magazine featured hairstyles from straight to curly.

In the current March's "Black Women in Hollywood" issue, there is no Whoopi Goldberg, with her dreadlocks, nor Halle Berry, with her relatively short 'do.

Instead, the images seem guaranteed to bolster the $247.7 million American market for ethnic personal care products — which comprise the majority of the Essence advertisers.

Danielle Belton, who writes "The Black Snob" blog, has worn many kinds of hairstyles and had this observation for Journal-isms: "No matter how many people shout 'It's just hair,' hair issues run pretty deep with black people. Mostly because you can economically change your hair. Other features black people battle with, like having wide noses or dark skin, can't be fixed in two-to-four hours at the salon for under $100. Or with a $40 wig from a Korean-run black hair care shop. Because hair is a something you can actually 'do' something about if you don't like it, you're going to get a wide range of reactions to things like this with one side wanting to point out the problems in it and the other [wanting] to laugh it off.

". . . I have my own hair issues which most people are surprised by considering I have a lot of hair and it's long. But I have some of the same issues. I was raised that my natural hair texture wasn't as nice as it would have been if it were straight. People have ALWAYS made a big deal about my hair to the point where I thought I would be ugly without it and that all my beauty was tied to it. I've had guys date me simply because of my hair (which is weird in itself). I have a love/hate relationship with it, largely because I love having long hair, but I hate putting all the work into it that my hair takes to maintain. It would honestly be so much easier to cut it and wear it short, but at the end of the day I like having long hair.

"The wigs and weaves ... I suppose that's just 'fantasy' hair. But it's an unobtainable fantasy. The 'highest' compliment anyone thought they were giving me was that my hair was so thick that it 'looked' like a high quality wig. When the hair you grew is getting compared to a wig, which is fake, and it's a compliment something has gone terribly, terribly wrong."

"You got to find out how he feels and where his head and heart was," said April Ryan of American Urban Radio Networks. (Video)

Obama Answers a Rare Question About the Poor

"When was the last time anyone in the White House press corps asked the President a question about the poor?" a blogger for the Congressional Black Caucus asked on Wednesday. "At an unscheduled press conference set up by the White House to get out in front of criticism of his budget, Urban Radio Networks correspondent April Ryan quotes CBC Chair Emanuel Cleaver’s press release of yesterday and asks President Obama about cuts important to the Congressional Black Caucus. President Obama spent most of his answer focused on his proposed cuts on Pell Grants but did address other concerns."

Ryan began by asking, "Mr. President, I want to focus in on the least of these.

"You started your career of service as a community organizer. And now we are hearing from people like — organizations like the CBC saying rebuilding our economy on the backs of the most vulnerable Americans is something that is simply not acceptable, like the cuts to community service block grants, Pell Grants, heating oil assistance and freezing salaries of federal workers.

"Now, Roderick Harrison of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Study says it's not good to make these type of cuts at a time of recession, instead of doing it at a time of recovery."

Obama replied that in the case of Pell Grants and heating oil assistance, he had actually increased the amount of money available but now must cut back.

"Now, we're in a budget crunch. The take-up rate on the Pell Grant program has skyrocketed. The costs have gone up significantly. If we continue on this pace, sooner or later what's going to happen is we're just going to have to chop off eligibility. We're just going to have to say that's it, we can't — we can't do this anymore; it's too expensive," he said.

"So instead what we did was how do we trim — how do we take a scalpel to the Pell Grant program; make sure that we keep the increase for each Pell Grant, make sure that the young people who are being served by the Pell Grant program are still being served, but, for example, on the summer school thing, let's eliminate that.

"That will save us some money, but the core functions of the program are sustained.

"That's how we're approaching all of these cuts."

But that wasn't the answer that most struck Ryan, she told Journal-isms. It was when the president mentioned the 10 letters he reads every day from the public. "Sometimes I'm also just frustrated by the number of people out there who are struggling and, you know, you want to help every single one individually," Obama said.

"And I —you know, you almost feel like you want to be a case worker and just start picking up the phone and advocating for each of these people who are working hard, trying to do right by their families. Oftentimes through no fault of their own they've had a tough time, particularly over these last couple of years. So, yeah, it — it's frustrating."

Said Ryan, "You got to find out how he feels and where his head and heart was, and we saw a little bit of that."

Bill Burton Leaving White House to Start Consulting Firm

Bill Burton (Credit: White House)"On the same day that Jay Carney stepped up to the podium for his first official briefing as the successor to Robert Gibbs as White House press secretary, the man who lost out to Carney for the coveted post officially announced he's bolting the administration on Friday," Ed Henry reported Wednesday for CNN.

"Bill Burton, who was the principal deputy press secretary to Gibbs, revealed in an e-mail that he is leaving President Obama's staff at the end of the week to start a new political and strategic consulting firm with Sean Sweeney, an ex-adviser to two former White House chiefs of staff, Rahm Emanuel and Pete Rouse.

" 'I will never forget the hardworking and decent people I worked with here — and I am so thankful for the opportunity to have been a part of it,' Burton wrote in the e-mail to colleagues and members of the White House press corps.'

"Burton, whose wife Laura is expecting the couple's first child this spring, said he had an epiphany this weekend as he prepared their Washington home for the new baby's arrival."

Burton was the highest ranking person of color in the White House press office. As for describing his racial identity, he told Journal-isms by e-mail last month, "I'm biracial because I'm african american and polish american." He added, "But I basically only have to refer to myself as one of those things in response to emails from you!"

Defector Who Fabricated Iraq's WMDs Admits He Lied

Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi"The defector who convinced the White House that Iraq had a secret biological weapons programme has admitted for the first time that he lied about his story, then watched in shock as it was used to justify the war," Martin Chulov and Helen Pidd wrote Tuesday for Britain's Guardian newspaper.

"Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, codenamed Curveball by German and American intelligence officials who dealt with his claims, has told the Guardian that he fabricated tales of mobile bioweapons trucks and clandestine factories in an attempt to bring down the Saddam Hussein regime, from which he had fled in 1995.

" 'Maybe I was right, maybe I was not right,' he said. 'They gave me this chance. I had the chance to fabricate something to topple the regime. I and my sons are proud of that and we are proud that we were the reason to give Iraq the margin of democracy.'

"The admission comes just after the eighth anniversary of Colin Powell's speech to the United Nations in which the then-US secretary of state relied heavily on lies that Janabi had told the German secret service, the BND. It also follows the release of former defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld's memoirs, in which he admitted Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction programme."

Janabi made the statements "in a series of meetings with the Guardian in Germany where he has been granted asylum," the newspaper said.

"In the only other at length interview Janabi has given he denied all knowledge of his supposed role in helping the US build a case for invading Saddam's Iraq."

Black Businesses Increase at Triple the National Rate

"From 2002 to 2007, the number of black-owned businesses increased by 60.5 percent to 1.9 million, more than triple the national rate of 18.0 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's Survey of Business Owners. Over the same period, receipts generated by black-owned businesses increased 55.1 percent to $137.5 billion," the Census Bureau reported on Tuesday.

“Black-owned businesses continued to be one of the fastest growing segments of our economy, showing rapid growth in both the number of businesses and total sales during this time period,” said Census Bureau Deputy Director Thomas Mesenbourg.

"These new data come from the Survey of Business Owners: Black-Owned Businesses: 2007. The survey provides detailed information every five years for black-owned businesses, including the number of firms, sales and receipts, number of paid employees and annual payroll."

The bureau did not say how many were media companies.

In this CBS News photo, former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak is thought to be the man waving before leaving Cairo by helicopter for Sharm el-Sheikh on Feb. 11. CBS said the photo would appear on Wednesday's "CBS Evening News With Katie Couric" and that additional photos would be revealed on Thursday's "The Early Show."  (Credit: CBS)

Female Correspondents Are Targets in Lawless Places

"The photographer was a seasoned operator in South Asia," [PDF] began an article by Judith Matloff in the May/June 2007 issue of the Columbia Journalism Review. "So when she set forth on an assignment in India, she knew how to guard against gropers: dress modestly in jeans secured with a thick belt and take along a male companion. All those preparations failed, however, when an unruly crowd surged and swept away her colleague. She was pushed into a ditch, where several men set upon her, tearing at her clothes and baying for sex.

"They ripped the buttons off her shirt and set to work on her trousers. 'My first thought was my cameras,' recalls the photographer, who asked to remain anonymous. 'Then it was, "Oh my God, I’m going to be raped." 'With her face pressed into the soil, she couldn’t shout for help, and no one would have heard her anyway above the mob’s taunts. Suddenly a Good Samaritan in the crowd pulled the photographer by the camera straps several yards to the feet of some policemen who had been watching the scene without intervening. They sneered at her exposed chest, but escorted her to safety.

"Alone in her hotel room that night, the photographer recalls, she cried, thinking, 'What a bloody way to make a living.' She didn’t inform her editors, however. 'I put myself out there equal to the boys. I didn’t want to be seen in any way as weaker.'

"Women have risen to the top of war and foreign reportage. They run bureaus in dodgy places and do jobs that are just as dangerous as those that men do. But there is one area where they differ from the boys — sexual harassment and rape. Female reporters are targets in lawless places where guns are common and punishment rare. Yet the compulsion to be part of the macho club is so fierce that women often don’t tell their bosses. Groping hands and lewd come-ons are stoically accepted as part of the job, especially in places where western women are viewed as promiscuous."

President Obama on Wednesday telephoned Lara Logan, the CBS chief foreign affairs correspondent who was sexually assaulted in Cairo on Feb. 11 while covering Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak's resignation, the Hollywood Reporter reported. Details of the conversation were not released.

Uptown Magazine Plans Quarterly "Uptown Professional"

Available in March"UPTOWN Magazine has announced the creation and launch of UPTOWN Professional, a quarterly career-focused magazine and website for the global urban professional," the magazine announced on Tuesday. "In addition to career aspirations, UPTOWN Professional will also cover related business lifestyle topics.

". . . The first issue, poly-bagged with UPTOWN Magazine, will be available on newsstands and in bookstores in March as well as distributed through major corporate employee affinity and network groups.

"The inaugural issue features a detailed look at the top 100 African American, Latino and Asian business executives in the US. Thought leaders profiled include Eugene Kelly/Colgate-Palmolive, Greg Hinton/U.S. Cellular, Thomas Harvey/AT&T, Rodney Adkins/IBM, Ingrid Saunders Jones/Coca Cola, Van Sapp/ PepsiCo, Kenya Jackson/Target, James Bell/Boeing, Don Thompson/McDonald's, Rohini [Anand]/Sodexo, Jimmie Paschall/Marriott, Moheet Nagrath/Procter & Gamble and Linda Jimenez/[WellPoint] among others. The full list is available at"

CNN Examines Allegations of Ernest Withers' Dual Role

"An overflow crowd came to see a sneak preview Thursday night of CNN's upcoming documentary on Ernest Withers, "Pictures Don't Lie,' " John Branston wrote Friday for the Memphis Flyer.

"The upstairs viewing room at the National Civil Rights Museum was full so latecomers watched the 30-minute segment in the downstairs auditorium. The total crowd was well over 100 people. The documentary will debut on Sunday, February 20th, on CNN. It is narrated by Soledad O'Brien."

"The piece, called Pictures Don't Lie, was screened in Nashville Tuesday and does not specifically prove or disprove Withers' connection."

In Nashville, WTVF-TV reported, "Withers' son, Billy Withers, was on hand at the screening and asked viewers to keep an open mind when watching the piece.

" 'I just want to say to these who saw this piece — and you know this is the second time I've seen it and it still sort of shakes me — but to remember the time and era that these men were in and under,' said Billy Withers."

Ernest Withers, who died in 2007 at age 85, was widely honored in life as one of the foremost photographic chroniclers of the civil rights movement.

In September, the Memphis Commercial Appeal reported that numerous reports showed Withers also to have been an informant for the FBI. Earl Caldwell, a co-founder of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education who was reporting from the Lorraine Motel the night in 1968 when Martin Luther King Jr. was killed, is interviewed for the report. 

White House, WETA to Honor Motown Sound

The White House and Washington public television station WETA are collaborating to produce "The Motown Sound: In Performance at the White House," a concert celebrating Black History Month and the legacy of Motown Records, the White House announced on Wednesday,

"The event will include legends from Motown’s golden age and performances by artists from today, all in tribute to Motown's 50-year legacy. Performers include Smokey Robinson, Natasha Bedingfield, Sheryl Crow, Jamie Foxx, Gloriana, Nick Jonas, Ledisi, John Legend, Amber Riley, Mark Salling, Seal and Jordin Sparks with Greg Phillinganes as the night’s music director," the announcement said. The celebration takes place Feb. 24 for broadcast on public television stations on March 1 at 8 p.m. Eastern time. WETA is producing in association with Bounce Event Marketing, a division of Anschulz Entertainment Group, and the National Black Programming Consortium,

Kate Kelly, a spokeswoman for WETA, said that while Robinson is the only Motown veteran scheduled to perform, others will be in the audience. In addition, Robinson and Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr. are to participate in a daytime workshop for high school students.

"The First Lady will welcome more than 100 students from California, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota and Washington, D.C. to take part in an interactive student workshop event: 'The Sound of Young America: The History of Motown.'

"Beginning at 1:30 p.m. in the State Dining Room, The GRAMMY Museum’s Executive Director Bob Santelli will lead the students in a discussion about the history of Motown’s long-lasting legacy, ranging from its beginnings in the city of Detroit to its effect on the music industry. Featured performers from the evening event will share their experiences as well as answer student questions about the music and entertainment world. 'The Sound of Young America' will stream live on,, and," the announcement said.

Short Takes

Follow Richard Prince on Twitter

Facebook users: Sign up for the "Richard Prince's Journal-isms" fan page.

Richard Prince's Journal-isms originates from Washington and is published Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It began in print before most of us knew what the Internet was, and it would like to be referred to as a "column." For newcomers: The words in blue (on most computers) are links leading to more information. The Web site provides passwords and user names to some registration-only news sites, but use may be illegal in some states. Any views expressed in the column are those of the person or organization quoted and not those of any other entity.

Send tips, comments and concerns to Richard Prince.

To be notified of new columns, contact and tell us who you are.

About Richard Prince

View previous columns.



Surge in black-owned business formation

The 60 percent increase in black-owned business may not be something to celebrate, but rather a sign of both our troubled economy and the disproportionate firings of minority and older employees.

Journalists covering this should keep these issues in mind:

People who cannot find work often start a small business in an effort to employ themselves and generate income. Such moves are an indicator of failed economic policies and determination, not of planning and saving to start a business. The failure rate for such enterprises is much higher than overall, especially when jobless rates are high and people lack money to spend, known as aggregate demand by economists.. 

The official jobless data masks the large differences based on race, education and age, but if you dig into the detailed tables you can see this data. Pay close attention to the U-6 tables from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Reporting on this issue should include data on the disparate jobless rates by race and age ( and, overall economic indicators ( There are easy-to-use interactive tables you can create there, with some data down to the county level.

Then there are the income charts (especially Tables A6 and A3) by Prof. Emanual Saez, analyzing tax return data

filed half way down the page under "Tables and Figures Updated to 2008"

The triennial wealth reports by Arthur Kennickell 

which show assets and financial assets (cash, stocks, bonds, cash value of whole life insurance) by race, revealing huge disparities.

If you are not comfortable with numbers there are plenty of professors at universities who will talk about this and help you grasp the numbers. Local labor councils may also have people who know the data or at least know who does know the data in your area. 

One area I have not seen anyone explore is how much local government subsidies go to majority-owned businesses, rather than minority owned firms.  The PARIS (Public Authorities Reporting Information System) available from the NY State controller and the subsidy tracker at both suggest to me that there is plenty of material here for someone who wants to dig into racial disparities in government subsidies to business.


Essence and wigs

Regarding Richard Prince's take on Essence magazine and its recent issue:

It could be argued that the presentation of black women in a Hollywood way, with wigs and add-ons, is consistent with the principal mission of a mainstream publication: to capture a demographic and hold onto its advertisers, who in the case of Essence are not grassroots artists or activists.

For some reasons that are admittedly selfish, I've found it hard to pick up Essence in recent years.

Thirteen years ago I wrote an article for them (A Father's Longing) that won first place in personal commentary from the New York Association of Black Journalists. Though relatively back in the issue of the magazine, it made me a kind of celebrity with wonderful people I had not previously known, in Brooklyn Roti shops and elsewhere, even far beyond New York City.

More recently, with Essence now under Time and company, I had an idea for an article and I made perhaps half a dozen phone calls to various editors -- even a personal call to someone who was a friend of a friend -- and never received a response.

Another more significant complaint of mine is that a pleasant feature of the publication under the previous owner -- availability online of back articles -- was removed by Time, with the motivation perhaps being that current owners did not want to be compared unfavorably with past ones.

Lastly, I'll say that to expect any faithfulness to issues of black concern from a Time-affiliated publication that caters to the broadest common denominator of advertisers is an exercise in heartbreak.

But let's give a parting word of thanks to Richard Prince and his Journal-isms site for raising this topic.


--Ron Howell




I don't wear a wig or a hair piece...

But I am a Black activist and according to the publications like Essence my views don't appeal to the bandwidth they target....Essence lost its way many moons ago..

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.