I’ve always paid particular interest to the month of September, ever since my first job in corporate advertising at Circuit City. It was the mid-90s, I was in my early twenties, and fresh out of college. Every September we had a brief reprieve from the mania of media-buying when we piled into a conference room to watch previews of the upcoming Fall TV shows. Complete with lunch and snacks, it was the best workday I could have at a company that had a 'No Urban Dictate policy;' and I felt privileged to be ‘in the know.’ A few years later, I was a reporter and editor at the Call & Post, a weekly black newspaper; and September would represent something different and the same.
Even though I worked on the editorial side of the paper, I was mindful of advertising buys. September was the one time of the year that we received an ad from Saks and Nordstrom. It was always the same ad, for Women’s coats, and always black and white. You see, a winter coat is a woman’s largest annual clothing expenditure - especially in a cold-weather state like Ohio. While these brands had absolutely nothing to say to Black women for the entire year, they wanted us – when it was time to purchase our priciest piece of clothing – to buy it from them. This lack of investment and brazen audacity is why I never did. I always shopped Macy’s.
After leaving Macy’s, I made a bee line for Barnes and Noble and Borders, for the fashion magazines. The big Fall fashion issues dropped in September, released in advance of the New York, London, Milan and Paris Fashion Weeks, also in September. Before the 2008 recession, a major fashion magazine like Vogue, could easily have 350+ pages - thus earning the moniker – the ‘Fashion Bible.’ And I was like a kid in a candy store…a media and fashion aficionado and a skilled seamstress and designer, I consumed every page and noted every major advertiser. September for print media is akin to Black Friday for retailers. That's for white-owned print media; black-owned print media has never benefitted from the September advertising windfall; September to us is simply a cool song by Earth, Wind & Fire.
Whoever made the cover of the big September issue was all-important. That person had to be extremely relevant and right now, hip & cool and/or next big thing. This season in print media helped to give rise to the 90s supermodel. “Some models also made history – (Naomi) Campbell became the first black model to appear on the front cover of Time, French Vogue, British Vogue, and the September issue of American Vogue, traditionally the year’s biggest and most important issue.”
Over the years, Black models/celebrities on the cover of major mainstream magazines have been few and far between. With a predominantly white readership and staff, the decision-makers understood that a Black cover star, would run the risk of alienating their 'core' audience. A Black star can be widely known in Black America and still be relatively, or outright unknown in White America.
Janel St. John, Founder
Black America collectively gasped when two white television commentators confused Dionne Warwick with Gladys Knight at Serena Williams’ 2022 US Open match. Indignant that a hallowed and historic event would be marred by yet another stereotype - this scenario was all too familiar. In 2018 the New York Times misidentified Academy Award-nominated actress, Angela Bassett – while on stage at the Emmys - as Omarosa Stallworth. Recently, on Andy Cohen's late night show "WWHL," Kathy Hilton misidentified Lizzo as ’Precious’ (Gabourey Sidibe). Who, in this day and time, does not recognize the pop sensation Lizzo? But let’s face it, White America does not, in large part, consume Black media or consider Black newsmakers relevant to their lives.
So that brings me to the September 2022 magazine covers. (I know…it took me a while to get here. Lol) In 25-years, I have never seen THIS many people of color on the cover of major magazines…ALL at the same time...ALL in the month of September. This means that mainstream media's desicion-makers, pivoted and risked it all to choose a Black cover star for the year's most important issue. Black Culture has now become the bellwether! Black excellence, perseverance, je ne sais quoi and Black Girl Magic have forged a new zeitgeist. It’s what I call, everyday Black History, since this has never happened before.
While there's a few internationally-based magazines represented, and W Magazine published 50-different covers for their 50th anniversary, the sheer number, is still unprecedented. Icons Serena Williams, Naomi Campbell, and newly-minted EGOT, Viola Davis, covered two September magazines, effectively debunking the age-old fashion industry adage that ‘Black women don’t sell magazines.'
Mark my words: September 2022 is the precise moment in time, when Black culture became the predominant influencer of mainstream media. Black greatness has always existed. It’s the worldwide appreciation and acknowledgement of that greatness that’s been stifled, stereotyped, and relegated to the inside and back pages. In the words of a popular Lizzo song..."It's about damn time!"
Now that mainstream media has forced Black culture on white readers and is openly courting readers of color, it will be interesting to see what changes this about-face will bring. Even more people of color will assume management roles in mainstream media. What was previously defined as 'mainstream' has now become nebulous. There will inevitably be more instances of cultural appropriation. The majority always pushes back when moved from the front and center position. And there's the unfortunate historical tendency to want to consume Black creativity and discard its people.
Black-owned print media is poised to make a comeback. This time around, it should receive the proper investment. After all, you cannot communicate the Black stories that comprise American and world history & culture and current events to the masses, while on the outside of Black culture, looking in, and using the wrong names!
"Black is the New Black!" That's not a current headline. That's what I boldly declared on the cover of my art & culture magazine, The Conscious Voice, in 2010. (pictured below) Although it took a decade to get here, I saw it coming! And that’s the life of a visionary – you have the tendency to see things that are invisible to others. -END-
An excerpt from the Publisher’s Note in the Spring 2010 issue of my art & culture magazine, The Conscious Voice. It was published for 5 years until 2010. Check out the theme!
We chose Muhammad Ali for our first 2010 cover, because he, more than any other individual
featured, embodies the spirit that we want to celebrate. It is the spirit of one that is bold, beautiful, competent, unapologetic and unashamedly Black. This is how Ali lived. It is why he became known as “The Greatest.” We looked at what is trending now, and found that 'Black is the New Black.'
We are now in a season of a new appreciation for all things African-Inspired. When we say African, we are referring to all people of the worldwide African Diaspora.... It is akin to an African-Inspired Renaissance. This celebration is influencing all aspects of the marketplace: art, fashion, architecture, style, home design, politics and media.
The Sherri Shepherd and Jennifer Hudson shows launched in September, joining veteran, Tamron Hall. There are now 3 Black women hosting daytime talk tv shows. This happened briefly from 1995-96, when Tempest Bledsoe and Rolonda Watts joined Oprah.
The Krannert Art Museum opened an exhibition titled Black on Black on Black! It was a collaborative show featuring the Black faculty at the School of Art & Design and explored Black identity, collectivity, positionality, healing, innovation and education.
Queen Elizabeth II passed, and Black Twitter responded. Many took to the platform, creating viral moments, by reflecting on her connection to colonialism across the Caribbean and Africa and how people of color suffered under British imperialism.