bullerdick & essence*The removal of white Essence Magazine Editor Michael Bullerdick is the kind of stuff that racial controversies are made of.

After seeing an uproar from the black community in response to the hiring of Bullerdick, Essence employees were treated to the sheer delight of finding out that their favored son was also a right wing extremist, possibly to the point of crossing into the land of blatant bigotry.  Bullerdick loves “going-in” on black public figures, including President Barack Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, and Rev. Al Sharpton in ways that would make David Duke quite proud.

Editor-in-Chief Constance White has been in damage control mode, likely angry at herself or someone else for making the ill-advised decision to hire Bullerdick.   The magazine is also forced to confront the fact that millions of black people are now looking at this company out of the corner of their eye, wondering what’s going on.  Having a guy like Bullerdick on the staff of Essence Magazine is like hiring R. Kelly to serve as Grand Marshall of a children’s parade (wait, that actually did happen, didn’t it?)

If I had Constance White and leading managers from Essence Magazine in a room, I’d love to ask them the following five questions:

1)      How did you let a right wing bigot into a key decision-making position in the first place?

I wouldn’t be surprised if someone inside Essence Magazine was responsible for releasing the screen shots of Bullerdick’s facebook page, which made him look like one of Rush Limbaugh’s biggest fans.   One must also wonder how this man got through the door and why no one vetted him properly.   It’s one thing for Bullerdick to be the guy taking out the trash, and another thing for him to be responsible for filtering the content that will shape the minds and perceptions of millions of black women across America…if only the Republicans were dumb enough to let me to do the same thing, I’d be able to destroy them.

Bullerdick has been in his position for months, and it’s disturbing when an editor of a major black women’s publication espouses views which communicate that he has very little respect for black people.  If any of the women at Essence were at Fox News doing the same thing, they would be fired faster than you can say, “Post-racial society.”

2)      Was Bullerdick lying about his job description or were you?

Essence Editor-in-Chief, Constance White, became somewhat defensive when the public began to question the hiring of Bullerdick.  Richard Prince does a very good job of pointing out the double-talk by stating that:

“In his LinkedIn profile, Bullerdick lists ‘Edit stories for tone and style’ among his duties, even though editor-in-chief Constance C.R. White insisted when he was hired, ‘Michael is responsible for production and operational workflow. He has no involvement in editorial content.’”

So, which one is it?  That he edits for tone and style or that he has no involvement in editorial content?  Either Bullerdick is lying or White is lying.  I’d love to speak to a member of the staff to find out which one it is.

3)      Do you understand just how deeply this man has disrespected you and your constituents?

No one can fault Michael Bullerdick for being a white guy. We can’t even necessarily attack him for being a Republican.  But it’s one thing to be a Republican and another thing to be the kind of nasty, racist, vile Republican that even Fox News won’t hire.  The remarks made by Bullerdick on his Facebook page about black public figures were a direct slap in the face to the millions of black people who pay the bills at Essence Magazine.

By being so bold in his disrespectful and possibly racist ideology, Bullerdick was effectively saying, “I don’t care what you people think and I have no respect for you.”

We should also note that every public figure being attacked on the screenshot of Bullerdick’s Facebook page “just happens” to be black.  Of course he would expect us to see things differently, since people like him believe that racism is a figment of our imagination.

4)      Who told you to hire this dude in the first place?

It’s hard to become the Managing Editor at Essence Magazine by just walking in off the street and handing them your resume.  In order for anyone, let alone someone who isn’t black and female, to get this kind of job, they usually have to have a connection.  To make the hire into a reality, someone has to say “I’ve worked with this guy in the past and he’s good.”  Another possibility is that a higher up at Time Warner (the company that owns Essence) made a phone call and told White to hire Bullerdick for the job.

I’d love to know who the puppet master happens to be, because it’s hard to imagine that the old school Essence Magazine of the 1990s would have ever hired anyone like this.  This “racial mutiny” within the walls of Essence is disturbing to anyone who loves the institution and indicative of something deeper.  The incident also makes it clear that some things have changed for the worse.

5)      What now?

Whether speaking of an interaction between two people or between a magazine and its readers, all relationships require trust.   By folding to corporate financial pressure and giving decision-making responsibility to individuals who do not have the black community’s interest at heart, Essence Magazine has engaged in a massive breach of trust with the black community and made questionable decisions which indicate that profit matters more than people.   From this point on, any “diversity decisions” are going to be viewed with a critical eye, and this incident is a telling reminder of what can happen when our most prized institutions hand over their power to the highest bidder.

The fact is that ownership is highly correlated with power, which is something that white folks figured out long ago.  African Americans, by believing that their power is in the paycheck, almost always find ourselves sitting on the sidelines complaining after we’ve been disrespected by those who own us.   Malcolm X warned us about this kind of thinking a long time ago.

Malcolm’s birthday is next month, so perhaps we should use this as an opportunity to reflect on the power of ownership when it comes to managing the institutions that control the minds of black people.  The fact of the matter is that some things should NEVER be for sale, and we can’t continue to allow ourselves to be hoodwinked.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here

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