IT’S THE BROKEN RECORD that continues to play despite repeated forewarnings: An influential white man says something racist and sexist, instant public backlash ensues, and swift consequence occurs.

As a Black queer millennial journalist, Jann Wenner’s offensive remarks to The New York Times weren’t shocking to me at all. His gatekeeping has for decades seeped into my understanding of pop culture. Growing up in the late-2000s and early-2010s, I can remember the covers having only a few Black people — namely former President Barack Obama, with sprinkles of Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, Chris Rock, Kendrick Lamar, and Kanye West. But musicians like Bono and U2, Bruce Springsteen, Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, Adele, Eminem, Lady Gaga, and Taylor Swift dominated the front page. I can only recall one solo Beyoncé cover, and very few other Black women.

Witnessing such erasure was infuriating and insulting. If Rolling Stone was a part of the Mount Rushmore of journalism, where did that leave people of color like myself, who expected more diversity and a voice in these pages?

The most important publication in pop culture seemed to treat musicians of color as if they were second-class artists in an industry where their contributions are essential. And for aspiring writers like myself, who wanted to cover such topics, it felt impossible to break into the industry. I can’t recall many Black writers who were frequently published in Rolling Stone — but I can name several who contributed to Vibe, Jet, Essence, and Ebony. Sadly, the publications many Black journalists wrote for have either ceased publication or have cut back on output — leaving Black queer writers like myself scrambling to find outlets that will give us a shot. As I’ve pitched newer music blogs and outlets, it seems clear they’re trying to adapt the same exclusionary model as the past Rolling Stone. This is the mess Wenner’s legacy influenced: A media industry that has for too long neglected diversity, equity, inclusion.

Translation: Representation matters, and cultural accuracy should be paramount. Since Wenner’s departure in 2019, the covers, hires, and voices of this publication have improved significantly — not in the name of pandering to diverse audiences, but simply by getting with the times. I’m a contributing writer here not because I’m Black, but because what I bring to the table is necessary for the culture.


But while there’s been growth, there’s still more work to do. I can’t be silent. I see excessive coverage of Taylor Swift, Selena Gomez, and Harry Styles. Personally, I believe there’s more that could be done to consistently spotlight Black artists with that same fervor. Dr. Martin Luther King said, “A man dies when he refuses to stand up for that which is right.… A man dies when he refuses to take a stand for that which is true.” For far too long, silence has held this publication and society back from moving forward. Now’s the time to stand up, tell the truth, and be loud.

Ernest Owens is an award-winning journalist and Rolling Stone contributing writer