Black Beauty

LAST NIGHT, I came home after a day of negotiations — that means, of late, weaving all the different creative threads into something called money flow. But, news kept popping up in my Facebook newsfeed and then via the old fashioned way — the telephone — was the 411 that Essence magazine just hired a new fashion director, Elianna Placas and — wait for it — she’s white.

I don’t write about fashion except in the sort of culture critic/pop culture way as a features writer. I have written for Essence, many editors ago. I have on-and-off been a subscriber to Essence; met and had a wonderful hours-long talk with Susan Taylor when she was at the helm there and came to L.A. for a “getting the lay of the land” visit. But my relationship with Essence is like many black women’s relationship with it, one that formed out of familiarity and necessity. It was “a place to go” when you needed to read about you. It was about survival.

Back story done:

Now, the firestorm: Michaela Angela Davis, a former Essence editor and founding fashion director, posted this on Facebook on Friday:

“It’s with a heavy heart I’ve learned Essence Magazine has engaged a white fashion director. I hate this news and this feeling. It hurts, literally. The fashion industry’s historically been so hostile to black people, especially women.”

Essence defends it’s position on

“I got to see firsthand [Placas’] r creativity, her vision, the positive reader response to her work, and her enthusiasm and respect for the audience and our brand,” [editor-in-chief Angela] Burt-Murray said. “As such, I thought she’d make an excellent addition to our team. And I still do. This decision in no way diminishes my commitment to black women, our issues, our fights.”

Michaela Angela Davis was on CNN last night with Anderson Cooper fielding questions that essentially often had her trying to explain that she her position *wasn’t* one of reverse racism.

The line that still reverberates was this: “We have one chair.”

She meant at the shows during Fashion Week but I took that one chair as achingly symbolic — an extended metaphor. That one chair behind a desk in the editing world, that one chair in front of the vanity’s mirror that represented black women.

There have historically been few places for black women to go for anything resembling themselves — not just external beauty, but inner beaut. Essence was the defacto place — different from others, not always perfect, not always spot-on — but it was there to deal with issues that black women in particular dealt with — how race played in the world of the workplace, dating, buying clothes, interacting with family and yes, buying make up to match your skin tone, figuring out how to make the fashions of the day work on our bodies. It was, in its best moment and best months, a place to meditate and a place for conversation.

So this firestorm isn’t a dis of Ellianna Placas — per se. She’s a symbol too now. I’m sure she’ll do her job. And she’ll do what most black women — black people — have done for many decades — learn, absorb, talk to people, figure out the culture — that’s how you survive.

And so, Ellianna Placas walks right into this tradition; she’ll learn that too, I suppose.

What so many people — black women in particular — are up-in-arms about is that this was one of the few places that we could not only go for advice, reassurance, some semblance of a mirror-image of ourselves — but also that “one chair” — that one chair in a fashion industry, publishing world that speaks from a black point-of-reference. This is pan-industry-wide problem — publishing/journalism, fashion.

This late in the day, it shouldn’t be the case. But it is. That’s how so much expectation gets put on “one chair,” one set of shoulders, one brand — especially when so many are braiding together all of their creative endeavors trying to create that money flow. Again, it’s about all survival.



SWAP IN some names and this could be on the op-ed page this morning:

“We have seen what happens when the word ‘democracy’ is taken to be a synonym for mediocrity; is not taken to mean to raise all of its members to the highest possible level, but on the contrary to reduce such members as aspire to excellence down to the lowest common denominator.
We have begun to see what happens to a country when it is run according to the rules of a popularity contest, we have begun to see that we ourselves are far more dangerous for ourselves than Khrushchev or Castro. What we do not know about our black citizens is what we do not know about ourselves; and what we do not know about ourselves is that we do not know about the world– and the world know it.Nothing can save us– not all our money, nor all our bombs, nor all our guns–if we cannot achieve that long, long-delayed maturity.”

— James Baldwin, from “What Price Freedom?,” 1964

Walking Man’s Death Ruled Suicide

THE MEMORIAL went on, despite reports that began to circulate late last week a that Dr. Marc Abrams, known as “The Walking Man” was embroiled in legal issues, stemming from the death of one of his patients by overdose of prescription drugs. All of this has now made Abrams a tricky figure to memorialize, however hundreds of people showed up in Silver Lake yesterday to walk Abrams’s 14-mile route and left notes, flowers and lit votive candles in his honor.

L.A. Times now reporting that Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office has ruled Abrams’ death a suicide.

Marc Abrams, the doctor known as the “walking man” for his shirtless walks around Silver Lake, died by drowning himself in his hot tub, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County coroner’s office said Monday.

photo —
andysternberg, via flickr

Daniel Schorr, 93

IT WAS fitting that I was in the car, radio tuned to news — first thing — when I heard of Daniel Schorr’s passing.

On NPR no less.

Just how long I’ve been listening to him, I can’t quite pin-point but I do remember paying much closer attention to him after he had a stroke a few years back. I marveled at how we were all able to listen to him come back to form in-real time. While the words came slow, the insights, analysis were razor sharp. I loved the interplay between him and Scott Simon.

Here’s part of Simon’s remembrance on NPR’s site:

No other journalist in memory saw as much history as Daniel Schorr.

He was born the year before the Russian Revolution and lived to see the Digital Revolution. He was there before the Berlin Wall went up and there a generation later when it came down. He was born before people had radio in their homes but pioneered the use of radio, television, satellites and then the Web to report the news.

How many people were personal acquaintances of Edward R. Murrow, Nikita Khrushchev, Frank Zappa and Richard Nixon?

For all the history that he reported, Dan Schorr will always be remembered for the moment he stood before live television cameras in 1974 with a breaking bulletin about a list of enemies compiled by the White House.

Schorr began to read the names. One of them was his own. “The note here is, ‘A real media enemy,'” he read, before continuing through the list.

“What went through my mind was, ‘Don’t lose your cool. Be professional,'” he said years later.

He always was. Someone to learn from.

The rest of the piece is here:
— photo via, Paula Darte/NPR

The Walking Man Will Walk No More

Sad news today, Marc Abrams, who became a Silver Lake/Echo Park/Los Feliz fixture for his power-walk around the neighborhoods — day or night, rain or shine (but mostly shine). Word is he was found this morning in his hot tub. Cause of death still undetermined. He was 58.
As an long-time E.P. resident who also worked for many years in Silver Lake, I saw him daily. It will be strange not to catch a glimpse of him with his folded paper, “vibing” the cycle of streetlights.

Sunday a group memorial walk in his honor will take place, following the route Abrams favored.

This from Blogging L.A.

As many of you have heard by now, Marc Abrams (known to most as Silver Lake’s Walking Man) passed away last night. To honor the man who became such a fixture in our community, a few of us have decided to organize a memorial walk in his honor, beginning this Sunday at noon. We will meet at West Silver Lake Drive and Moreno, near where he began his daily walks, then follow his usual route.

In 2004, Abrams outlined his route in an interview:

“I usually loop around the lake, and then go down West Silverlake to Rowena, and then Hyperion, and then Griffith Park Blvd. down Sunset, back down Silverlake to the reservoir, and then back and loop around the lake again. So it’s about 15 miles altogether.”

All are welcome to join. Details below:

What: Memorial Walk to Honor Marc Abrams

When: Sunday, July 25 at noon

Where: Meet at the Silver Lake / Moreno Metro bus stop located on West Silver Lake Drive at Moreno

Pour on the sunblock, don your short shorts, bring along a folded New York Times and just walk – that’s what he would have done.

“Walk in Peace” is the message that graces the new Facebook memorial page set up to honor Abrams.
— photo credit Gelatobaby, flickr photo stream

“What Are Angelheaded Hipsters?”

It’s coming . . . .It’s got great advance thus far, but of course I’m nervous…

And yes indeed, that is Jon Hamm at the top . . . .
Here’s the trailer:

And here a quartet of clips . . .

Whatever you think of Allen Ginsberg, he is utterly sui generis. I know that attempting to channel him couldn’t have been easy, so we’ll see what James Franco came up with.