Black Girl Magic
|Type||Moniker, Message, Brand, Movement|
Black Girl Magic (#BlackGirlMagic) is a movement that was popularized by CaShawn Thompson in 2013. The concept was born as a way to "celebrate the beauty, power and resilience of Black women,” as described by Julee Wilson from HuffPost, and to congratulate Black women on their accomplishments. Referring to a speech made by Michelle Obama at the Black Girls Rock Awards, Thompson explains that Black women around the world who were persevering, despite adversity, inspired her to spread the concept of "Black Girl Magic". With these women in mind, Thompson created the social media hashtag, clothing campaign and rallying cry "Black Girl Magic,” in hopes of counteracting negativity society places on Black women.
Though born online, the movement has inspired many organizations across the world to host events using the title. The movement has also seen celebrity support, as singers Corinne Bailey Rae, Jamila Woods, Janelle Monáe and Solange Knowles have invoked the concept, and ballerina Misty Copeland and President Barack Obama discussed the idea in an interview with Maya Rhodan for Time and Essence magazines.
Since being popularized, the concept has also gained traction in cultural criticism, invoked in analysis of music and film. As its usage has grown, the expression has drawn criticism as well as staunch defenders.
In 2013, Thompson coined the phrase via the hashtag #BlackGirlsAreMagic— now shortened to #BlackGirlMagic—to create an online dialogue centered on the achievements of Black women, in a society that has historically recognized very few of these achievements. Thompson saw the publication of a Psychology Today blog post titled "Why Are Black Women Rated Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women, But Black Men Are Rated Better Looking Than Other Men," as well as other negative articles about Black women. The article was retracted, but the negative message is pervasive. She created the original hashtag to share affirmations for Black women and girls in order to change the prominent narrative. Now colloquially used on popular social media sites, the hashtag can be seen being used widely on sites such as Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and other mainstream media platforms, with a symbol of celebrating positive messages and images of Black women all across the globe.
On June 26, 2016, actor Jesse Williams mentioned the movement in his speech at the BET Awards 2016. Williams showed his appreciation for Black women by emphasizing the importance of acknowledging their accomplishments. Williams ended his speech by stating the following "just because we're magic, does not mean we're not real." Williams' objective was to make the audience as well as viewers understand that Black Girl Magic is not just a hashtag but it is a slogan that is connected to deeply rooted pain and unspoken historical events of oppression, discrimination and dehumanization.
On February 15, 2016, Essence launched "Essence Black Girl Magic", a video series sponsored by Walmart. This original six-part docuseries captures the poignant stories and diverse lifestyles of six young that epitomize Black excellence. Additionally, Essence has a segment of their website dedicated to celebrating the achievements of Black girls.
In January 2014, Thompson began selling T-shirts sporting the "Black Girls Are Magic" logo that she created with her friend. At the time, Thompson only meant to sell these shirts to her friends and family, but has since sold over 3,000 T-shirts through her Teespring account. While the popularity of the shirts started among active social media users, Thompson was quickly surprised to see that people were also buying them as gifts for granddaughters, daughters, and nieces, as they felt that the message was encouraging for young girls too.
The shirts have also gained some celebrity recognition, with prominent young Black women such as Willow Smith, Amandla Stenberg Ryan Destiny, Yara Shahidi, Zendaya, Lupita Nyong'o, Laura Harrier and many other incredible Black women and girls posting pictures of themselves on various social media platforms wearing their Black Girls Are Magic gear.
"I say 'magic' because it's something that people don't always understand," Thompson told The Los Angeles Times. She went on to explain how "Sometimes our accomplishments might seem to come out of thin air, because a lot of times, the only people supporting us are other Black women." At its core, the purpose of this movement is to create a platform where women of color can stand together against the stereotyping, colourism, misogynoir and racism that is often their lived experience.
Clarissa Joan of Madame Noir wrote a series of articles called "Black Girl Magic Defined" that addresses the day to day experience of living black girl magic. Black women face challenges specific to their race and gender, and Joan's articles explore these ideas.
On October 30, 2016, musician Solange Knowles and public scholar Melissa Harris-Perry took the stage at CEMEX Auditorium for an intimate conversation about the Black Girl Magic, in the discussion Solange and Harris-Perry touched on the merits of formal education, issues of geopolitical racism, family dynamics and more, all in the context of race and what it means to be an African American woman. Solange, who pushes the agenda of Black excellence and has been very vocal about the issues of intersectionality in America, shared her thoughts on Black Girl Magic with Harris-Perry.
In a separate interview, Harris-Perry described the celebration of Black Girl Magic: "What I like about Black Girl Magic is that it designates those moments when black girlhood or black womanhood isn't being used for surplus labor value for some other system, but just for your damn self."
Scholars have seen parallels between Black Girl Magic and the Black church in the U.S., with social media interactions involving the hashtag seen as extensions of "[t]he Black church traditions of testimony, exhortation, improvisation, call and response, and song."
In popular culture
With her 2016 single "Blk Girl Soldier" and its accompanying video, singer, songwriter, and poet Jamila Woods centers Black Girl Magic. Woods draws on the popular understanding of Black Girl Magic as a quality of power and perseverance in Black women and girls that people "don't understand", yet she further enriches the concept by centering the historic contributions of Black female revolutionaries such as Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Rosa Parks, Ella Baker, Audre Lorde, Angela Davis, and Assata Shakur. With footage of a contemporary #SayHerName protest, Woods draws a line from abolitionism through the civil rights movement and Black feminism to modern day political activism, linking these movements as expressions of Black Girl Magic. With lyrics such as "she scares the gov'ment," and the inclusion of a quote from Black Liberation Army member Shakur to bookend the song, Woods posits that Black Girl Magic is not only about a celebration of Black women, but also their radical and uncompromising fight against oppression. Speaking about the song's video, Woods states, "The goal of the ‘Blk Girl Soldier’ video is to lift up the Black women throughout history and today who inspire me and who are doing brilliant artistic and activist work. Knowing my history and what my people have survived before me has made me stronger.” In 2018, NPR ranked "Blk Girl Soldier" as the #144 greatest song by a female or nonbinary artist in the 21st century, writing that the song is "tinged with sadness about injustices committed ‘last century, last week,’ but infused with the beautiful power of those who fought and keep fighting."
In Stormzy's freestyle as part of his live performance at the BRIT Awards 2020, he said: 'I got two sisters, one black mum, they raised a prince. / Raised up by black girl magic, what did you think, huh?', in reference to his upbringing, his family and the Black Girl Magic movement.
In 2018, Sampa the Great released "Black Girl Magik" feat. Nicole Gumbe. According to the artist, the song is written for "sisters like me, with skin as dark as the night that shines so effortlessly. I wrote this for my sister, who looks in the mirror and calls out to beauty, who can no longer see her."
Janelle Monáe's 2018 track "Django Jane" refers to Black Girl Magic. The lyrics, "Black girl magic, y'all can't stand it / Y'all can't ban it, made out like a bandit." The artist wrote about the line on Genius:
Because we come from generations and generations of queens and kings, and then having to go through being stripped of our identity, of our magic, we’re resilient. It’s a celebration of our resilience, our power, our influence on culture, the way we wear our hair, our style has been influential to the fashion worlds and music worlds, just to media, and to culture, for many decades and centuries. I want to celebrate us as much as I possibly can, and I think that black women, we should be able to see ourself in the future. We should be able to see that we make it, and we’re stronger than we were in the past. We’re stronger than our grandmothers, you know what I’m saying?
Beyoncé is a quintessential example of Black Girl Magic. Beyoncé's hit single Formation speaks directly to Black women to "get in formation" and celebrates her daughter's "baby hair afro." By centering her culture and exploring her identity as a Black woman, she celebrates "unapologetic blackness." According to scholar Charlotte Theys, Formation is a rejection and reconstruction of the stereotypical black woman. Her appearance at the 2016 VMAs with collaborators from Lemonade was hailed as a powerful statement that combined her artistic message with her political one. Additionally, Halliday and Brown argue that "Feeling Myself" by Nicki Minaj featuring Beyoncé is a "#blackgirlmagic anthem" that Black girls use to empower themselves.
The fifth track on Wale’s 2019 album “Wow...That's Crazy” is titled “BGM,” an acronym for Black Girl Magic as revealed in the song's chorus. On the track, he expresses that he is proud of black women for confronting and defeating the obstacles that they often face as a result of societal barriers and racial inequalities. The upbeat, funk-inspired track also alludes to the beauty and independence of black women. Wale released the track in honor of Women's Equality Day on August 26, 2019.
Simone Biles, Serena Williams, and Gabby Douglas are hailed as three Black Girl Magic models. "While significant in their own right, these accomplishments symbolized much more than just athletic proficiency. All three women proved the enduring spirit of Black people. Our community has been tested time and time again and yet still we find the strength to rise." Additionally, Simone Manuel's gold medal for the women's 100-meter freestyle in swimming was a monumental event considering the legacy of racial discrimination of Black people in swimming pools.
Bustle magazine highlighted the 2016 Rio Olympics as an important moment for Black Girl Magic, as Simone Biles, Simone Manuel, Lia Neal, Michelle Carter, Allyson Felix, Gabby Douglas, Sloane Stephens, and Ashleigh Johnson competed in various events and many of these women won medals. Dominique Dawes, Tidye Pickett, and Louise Stokes were also included as inspirational Black women athletes. The Root featured athletes Maya Moore, Tori Bowie, Michelle Carter, Shamier Little, Ajee Wilson, Ashleigh Johnson, Alysia Montano, and Brittney Reese for embracing their Black Girl Magic prior to the Olympic games. Reuters recognized Brianna Rollins, Nia Ali, and Kristi Castlin for their sweep of the high hurdles.
An episode of K.C. Undercover: "The Legend of Bad, Bad Cleo Brown" was written by two Black women, Raynelle Swilling and Teri Schaffer, directed by a Black woman, Nzingha Stewart, and stars a half Black actress, Zendaya. Nzingha Stewart's goal of the episode was for the Black girls watching "to remember that they come from strong stock, and they too have that seed of black girl magic inside of them just waiting for them to act on it."
While many Black women support the concept of Black Girl Magic, some[who?] feel it reinforces the "strong Black woman" archetype that Black women often confront. In an article for Elle Magazine, Linda Chavers argued that the movement suggests that Black women are superhuman, or something other than human. She goes on to explain how, historically, Black women have been seen and treated as subhuman beings, and how the image of Black women persevering despite her suffering, is the epitome of the strong Black woman type that is often celebrated while simultaneously being criticized in today's culture.
In addition some argue that the term Black Girl Magic causes only one race to be viewed as superior. For example within the article Why are People Arguing About 'Black Girl Magic' the author brought up the hashtag of "White Girl Magic." They mention how it contradicts Black Girl Magic. Proclaiming that it "placed needless focus on race." Yet the opposing side argues that all races should be uplifted and that the Black Girl Magic phrases only down cast other races.
Rachel Dolezal received criticism for her appearance at a natural hair rally in Dallas, Texas. Olinka Green, a community activist, said, “Rachel wants the black girl magic and the glory and attribution, but she can’t put up with what we go through day to day.”
The term Black Girl Magic is under legal dispute. Essence and Beverly Bond are both trying to trademark the term. In 2014, Bond attempted to trademark the term for use with Black Girls Rock! but the application was marked abandoned in 2016. Bond applied for a service mark, butting heads with Essence's attempt to service mark "Essence Black Girl Magic."
In March 2019, Google released an advertisement celebrating Black Girl Magic, but neglected to mention or include Thompson or Bond. The erasure of the Black women who created and popularized the phrase rankled individuals who believe that Black women's contributions are erased or minimized.
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