Maybe It Wasn’t All About Her Tweets
A complicated mix of privilege, race and gender double standards marks Alexi McCammond’s rise and fall as Teen Vogue’s top editor.
I’ll be honest.
When I first read that former Axios reporter Alexi McCammond had backed out of becoming the next editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue due to past anti-Asian and anti-gay social media posts, I was immediately struck not by her tweets but by how young she was. At 27, McCammond would have been younger than her predecessor, Lindsay Peoples Wagner, who made history as Teen Vogue’s youngest appointed editor-in-chief at the age of 29. And among chief editors at other Condé Nast publications, McCammond would have been the least experienced. Samantha Barry, the current editor-in-chief for Glamour, was an executive producer for CNN prior to taking her new role. Vanity Fair’s Radhika Jones was previously a managing editor at The New York Times and Time magazine. And GQ’s Will Welch has been rising up the ranks through the publication since 2007.
Even at a time when anti-Asian bigotry is in the news, and in an industry where homophobia is especially unwelcome, McCammond’s youth probably played a bigger part in her ouster at Teen Vogue than her old tweets. After all, 2011 isn’t 2001 or 1991. Being young enough to have one’s most foolish high school thoughts just a few clicks away isn’t something a top magazine editor ought to have to worry about. And even though McCammond had already apologized for and deleted the tweets a few years earlier, and had since become a reputable reporter covering Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign for Axios, she had not yet established herself in the right communities as a progressive voice in order for her social media posts to be quickly discarded as the musings of a teenage girl.
From this perspective, McCammond’s time at Teen Vogue was probably doomed from the start. And this was all foreseeable. So why did Condé Nast hire her anyway?
Here’s what Allegra Frank wrote for Slate just two days before McCammond backed out of the job, as angry staff members were going public, that starts to pick apart the mystery behind McCammond’s hiring.
What is happening at Teen Vogue is a reflection of what is happening at many media companies, including other Condé Nast brands: People of color have finally gotten enough of a foothold, in strong enough numbers, to start what has ultimately turned out to be an extremely long and painful process of addressing the industry’s racism. McCammond’s hiring at Teen Vogue has some unique details — McCammond herself is a young Black woman, which means a certain type of person might assume she’s going to be a step forward when it comes to issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion (not inherently true). That same type of person might also think that putting a person of color in charge is an adequate response to the diversity issues that plague Condé Nast. That’s also rarely true — instating new leadership is not a substitute for actual, radical change.
Frank sees McCammond’s hiring as part of a pattern of mostly White major media companies putting Black and Brown figures in positions of power without doing the internal work that would lead to real industry change. But even if Condé Nast were only willing to invest in cosmetic changes, it could have found a more qualified Black editor-in-chief than McCammond. The two previous Black women in that role, Elaine Welteroth and Lindsay Peoples Wagner, both had several years of magazine editing experience before taking the top job with Teen Vogue.
That the company settled on someone with no known management and very little editing experience leads me to think McCammond got the job because she is an especially attractive woman who happens to be Black and working in digital media.
When I read a news story about McCammond from her hometown newspaper from January 2011, when she would have been a senior in high school, I was not surprised to learn that she had been a cheerleader on top of being a star student, earning a full-ride scholarship to the University of Chicago. The pictures accompanying the story about her scholarship seemed to tell a familiar story: She was the kind of girl who could roll out of bed with her hair piled into a bun and a sweatshirt burying her knees and look camera ready. If any girl could do what Anne-Marie Slaughter swore we could not do — have it all — McCammond was the type to set out to prove her wrong, quickly.
Perhaps just as she was given a shorter leash than most White men in media who held top jobs for decades before being canned for past statements, McCammond was given a shot most women would not have been given with a similar resume because of her looks.
Writer and trans activist Janet Mock described this phenomenon as pretty privilege four years ago, acknowledging the ways that being a biracial, “cis looking” trans woman has afforded her visibility and opportunity that most trans women of color still fight for. “If I did not look the way I do, then I would not be on TV or on two book covers,” she wrote. “This does not mean that I have not put in work and effort and done my job well, but my beauty is not something that I earned. I did not work for it, yet it has opened doors for me, allowing me to be seen and heard.”
To say that McCammond benefited from pretty privilege is not to say that she didn’t earn anything she has accomplished as a former standout student, athlete, or reporter. Nor is it to diminish the ways Black women can be “set up to fail” as Allegra Frank noted in her piece, when they are afforded positions of power in White spaces without the support to keep them, as was clearly the case between McCammond and Condé Nast.
But it seems the outrage over her decade-old tweets is a comingling of resentments around her youth, lesser experience, and the company’s prioritization of cosmetics over substance in hiring decisions that staff at Teen Vogue have not fully examined on their own part — because it’s just easier to get rid of someone over offensive tweets.