It’s 2016 and there’s something in the air. A thick, wondrous mystical aura clouds the atmosphere and it appears that the world has been cast by a spell. Word has it that it’s a crazy kind of magic but we’re not talking voodoo. This is a special power, a movement that shines through any darkness and it’s called Black Girl Magic.
The Black Girl Magic movement by now may ring a bell. The hashtag #BlackGirlMagic has been taken off by storm on all social media platforms, accompanied by gorgeous photos of sistas in all shades of dark doing their thang, and damn do they look good while doing it.
The phrase was first coined in 2013 when CaShawn Thompson introduced it as a way to celebrate the fierce willpower of black women, resilient to the impact of an oppressive past that dared to defy their magic. Soon thereafter, T-shirts supporting the campaign were in high demand and stars like Amandla Stenberg strutted the electric words with utmost pride.
If you’re black and identify as female, you probably already know what it’s all about without even knowing it. Black girl magic is that unspoken language of sisterhood that had you inwardly screaming ‘YASS GIRRRL!” when you first saw Lupita NYong’o go up to claim her title as Best Supporting Actress back in 2013. It’s that awestruck admiration when you see a black gal rockin’ that pastel pink ‘fro on the street, runway or Instagram feed. It’s a collective understanding brimming with self-love and acceptance when your very (magical) presence is enough to move mountains and uplift sisters into the heavens just by being you. The true you that remains unaffected by definitions and boxes that you did not ask to be put in. The Carefree Black Girl.
Corinne Bailey gave her definition: “Black girl magic is seeing a representation of us in the media that’s empowering and makes you feel better about yourself, like seeing somebody who looks like you in the media doing something other than struggling or being a nurse in a period drama. It’s about being fun and sparkly and fully experiencing life and not having your life defined by your Blackness and representation of what Blackness is.”
I think the word magic perfectly illustrates this phenomenon because it’s something that people will tell you isn’t real and does not exist, but all you have to do is say “I do believe in Black Girl Magic” and poof! It materializes right in front of you.
Growing up, we are sponges that soak up all that we see around us. So when girls of color see Disney princesses and Barbie dolls and magazine covers exclusively celebrating Euro-centric beauty features, of course, we feel torn down. Add in a little degradation via media props to perpetuate one-size-fits-all generalizations and you’ve got yourself a girl that has been taught to hate herself and the magic that she possesses. We’ve inadvertently internalized these racist messages around us and being entrapped in these norms have allowed our psyche to fall victim to some serious damage.
Patriarchal capitalist media outlets have already conditioned women to face insecurities daily by defining femininity for us, so you can imagine the double damage for women of color that not only have to deal with sexism, but racism as well. Stereotypes that date back to the times of slavery have continued to perpetuate notions that the black body is somehow more sexual, that we are tough, angry and unintelligent compared to our white counterparts. Imagine being hyper-sexualized in the media yet somehow defeminized at the same time, and treated as if violence does not hurt us.
Due to this unfair misrepresentation fueled by a deeply rooted oppression, the black female community has had to literally dodge bullets and tread lightly to avoid being aligned with tropes that attribute their identity to anything other than who they are. Whether it’s hiding our kinky coils, subconsciously feeling the need to keep quiet or extra bubbly to compensate for assumptions of being the Angry Black Woman, or having to worry that a white guy is only interested in fulfilling some fetishized fantasy: It’s just another day in Black Girl Universe. There is so much questioning that goes on in daily life that many grow up confused about their identity because they don’t feel “black enough” if they’re quiet and not into hip hop, yet not “white enough” to be an awkwardly cute Zooey Deschanel.
“While white women are praised for altering their bodies, plumping their lips and tanning their skin, black girls are shamed although the same features exist on them naturally.” Hunger Games actress Amandla Stenberg tells Teen Vogue.
That’s why this bond-that-now-has-a-name is so phenomenal and much needed.
The harsh reality is that racist stereotypes, exclusive standards of beauty and cultural appropriation are not going anywhere anytime soon but these insecurities we face daily as black women can and will subside. When we cultivate our own “un-definitions”, believe in our inner strength and strip ourselves naked of any inaccurate portrayals society has the nerve to give us, we can truly be free.
As Bob Marley sings in Redemption Song, “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds”
Groundbreaking movements fighting to eradicate racism from a white male dominated culture is evidently the essential tools for change to occur, but it’s also time that we tend to our own internal bruises from the battleground as black women. Educating and informing white audiences about privilege and double standards is key, but we’ve been voicing our perspectives for a long, long time now so the resources are there on the table for them. Now it’s about educating ourselves to not only resist but also plant seeds of empowerment by connecting with our sisters and rooting for those magical black girls to go whatever trajectory they choose without looking back. In a world where we are constantly side-stepping between images to fit and ones to step away from, black girl magic is the core ingredient to blur those unnecessary lines and teach chocolate and caramel girls to just be you and proud.
It’s not just something that’s being tweeted about, a humble revolution is in the works. Essence launched a docuseries last month, Amandla Stenberg described the beauty of blackness to Teen Vogue and teens behind Art Hoe Collective have given an online/offline space for artists of color.
There’s just so many positive vibrations in this era of black womanhood that its contagious energy has proved to be a glorious domino effect. As long as we keep seeing black girls slaying the game and taking center stage to refute these tiring archetypes, we will see more and more of them. Rather than the classic political dialogue of diminishing the oppressor, black girl magic uses that energy to first and foremost focus on healing ourselves and supporting the sisterhood.
Of course, it’s difficult to keep your calm when a mere Google of such a positive movement leads you to that irrelevant article from Elle as the first result, minimizing this movement to the trope that black girls are impervious to pain. Of course, it hurts to hear about the mainstream fascination with Kylie’s lips, Kim’s “boxer braids”, hashtags like #whitegirlsdoitbetter and usual derogatory comments.
But black girl magic is like soooo over that. We can still and are encouraged to be pissed off, but channeling that anger into creative expression and solidarity trumps hate because we recognize that any outside voices are invalid since they come from sources of oppression or privilege. How could we possibly be deterred by an inauthentic narrative given by someone who will never understand the Black Girl experience? Unlike other movements, the promotion of autonomous growth within the community does not wait for reactions from the other side. It acknowledges that commentary about our hair, bodies, and sexual identity should solely come from us so we’ll do things our way and maybe the rest of the world will finally catch up with our glimmering shine.
We need a culture that is aware and sensitive to this oppressive history and how it has taken a toll on black women, yet inclusive to the point where blackness is not ignored but for the very least normalized so that the next generation of black girls do not carry a burden of shame for their skin tone.
Black girls are beautifully rare blooming flowers that need nurturing and care like other flowers do, but also possess a type of strength to water themselves and those around them, mysteriously growing even on days when the sun remains beneath the clouds.
Black girls are magic, pass it on.
Or don’t- Either way we’re gonna keep shining.
—words by Maya Amoah
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