Our baby toes were not yet chilled into the 20 degree windchill of the year 2016 of our Lord before a digital glossy, you know, the ones who write about why Timberlands, beanies, and braiding are suddenly hot shit, came along, and pulled their greatest attempt at shitting all over our stuff.
This time, it wasn’t predicted Black appropriation, it was a clear assault and sweeping misinterpretation on one of the greatest social media inventions since #BlackLivesMatter, and #OscarsSoWhite—none other than the modern day melanin-infused genius #BlackGirlMagic.
Linda Chavers, Harvard alum, new writer to Elle.com, and Black girl, declared to the website’s near 14 million readers, she has serious beef with #BlackGirlMagic in the article, “Here’s My Problem with Black Girl Magic“.
Of course the story went viral, and both Chavers and Elle figuratively were dragged on Black Twitter. And while we’re not shocked Elle jumped at the chance to publish the story, the media brand’s tragically limited editorial scope on Black women and girls, and the few Black writers the 35 year-old magazine gives bylines to coupled with Chaver’s criticism of an intercultural understanding like #BlackGirlMagic much like girl, headscarves and cocoa butter, added mad insult to injury.
But we’re not here to come for Chavers, or to defend the antiquated idea of “spilling dirty laundry in front of White folks”, we enter this continued conversation with nothing but understanding sprinkled with a little tough love. Chavers is after all, a fellow Black girl, whose list of accomplishments rings #BlackGirlMagic. It’s evident, however, a few lines into her article copy, she’s dealing with her own kind of struggle, namely MS for 10 years.
“As someone who has lived with the chronic, incurable illness MS for almost ten years, I know that illness and disability can make the person who has it feel like a failure. No matter what doctors, friends and family members say–no matter what the scientific establishment says, she can carry around a sense that she did something wrong. She might think that if she’d just done something different, something better, something magical, then maybe things would not be as they are.”
Linda is hurting. And rather than beat #BlackGirlMagic across her head, it’s in the interest of everything the affirmation professes, to lend our compassion to her.
“Black girl magic is the only time Black women have been in complete control of a stigma that surrounds them.”
We all know what suffering looks like from fighting depression, breakups, and body shaming and, as Chavers so eloquently laid out in her synopsis of the “magical Black woman” and the “strong Black woman” archetype:
“The “strong, black woman” archetype, which also includes the mourning black woman who suffers in silence, is the idea that we can survive it all, that we can withstand it. That we are, in fact, superhuman. Black girl magic sounds to me like just another way of saying the same thing, and it is smothering and stunting. It is, above all, constricting rather than freeing.”
It’s more than fair to declare the idea of #BlackGirlMagic flies way above Chaver’s cerebellum. But even more startling, as it appears, Chavers seemingly rejects and is unintentionally unaware of her own ancestral and matrilineal magic.
Here, Jawbreaker, offers our collective response, with conversation by associate editor Ariel Leconte, senior editor Shayla Byrd and founder Geneva S. Thomas.
Black girl magic is a million things, but if there’s anything it’s not it’s the idea that Black women are “indestructible.”
The “strong Black woman” trope is easily the most dangerous stereotype for Black women; it’s robbed us of our freedom to be human, to be vulnerable. Black girl magic is the complete opposite.
Where the strong Black woman was fostered and created by White America, and let’s be real, also Black men, it’s given us no control over how we’re viewed, so much so that we accepted and internalized the label as our own. America was built on the wombs of Black women and when they “freed” us they blamed us for being so tough, for trying to take control of our lives.
The 1965 report, The Negro Family: The Case for National Action, better known as The Moynihan Report, blamed the failure of Black society post slavery and mid-civil rights on Black women. It pinned Black women as the root of the deterioration of Black families, because nine times out of 10, we were the ones running households and holding it all together.
There was a time when Black women had no choice but to be the Sojourner Truths of the world, when we “ploughed, and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head us.” We had no choice but to be strong, but the era of the inhuman Black woman is changing. We’re ethereal in a whole new way, we are indeed magical.
Black girl magic is the only time Black women have been in complete control of a stigma that surrounds them. We’ve been the Jezebel, we’ve been Mammy, and the ghetto finger-snapping hoodrat; but for once Black girls are none of those things, we are a celebration.
Black girl magic allows us recognize ourselves as human and it’s creating a generation of women who take care of themselves first. Because of Black girl magic, we recognize our mental health and wellness, we put thought into the relationships we choose, and we pick each other up by acknowledging our flaws. Black girl magic is our freedom to breathe and by saying that you’re tired of seeing other Black women happy, you’re taking away the celebration of our humanity.
It’s not about being a Black version of a stereotype. Black girl magic isn’t about embracing the strong I-N-D-E-P-E-N-D-E-N-T Black woman prototype. Nor are we talking about brown-skinned versions of the manic pixie dream girl. It’s about celebrating all that we are as Black women, in a world that often doesn’t.
“No one’s claiming to be Harry Potter out here.”
But thanks, Linda Chavers for your opinion. It too, is magical. Because you see, Black women when not overlooked period, have historically been put into boxes. That’s how these stereotypes even came to be in the first place. So your diversity of thought actually helps elucidate this #BlackGirlMagic thing.
We’re not the sassy, gum-popping, finger-snapping sidekicks anymore. We’re the stars of the show. The whole point of #BlackGirlMagic is to celebrate how we as Black women accomplish amazing things despite the odds being stacked against us, and our people, in so many ways. It’s to celebrate that unique flavor that we bring to the table.
So Linda, girl, we forgive you for taking the word magic so literally. No one’s claiming to be Harry Potter out here.
We’re just showing the world how awesome we are. We’re beautiful. We travel the world. We run corporations. We win competitions. Sometimes we’re weak. Sometimes we’re strong. Some of us are #TeamNatural, some of us rock bundles on bundles on bundles.
But you know what? It’s all Black. And it’s all magic. We created it, hashtagged it and made it thing. #BlackGirlMagic isn’t going ANYwhere.
Linda’s words are seeped in sadness and anxiety. I wouldn’t doubt it if she in fact, knew the real intention behind #BlackGirlMagic, but somehow rejects it because her own internal struggle has her on the periphery of our viral way of popping our collars. She wouldn’t be the first Black girl who doesn’t feel culturally Black, and certainly not the first Black girl who’s doesn’t get it.
What concerns me above her problem with Black girl magic, and the sweeping comparison to “strong Black woman” mythology is that she speaks of being magical like its a bad thing.
What’s wrong with being a magical Black girl?
No, we’re not Harry Potter but we have the kind of spiritual weaponry, and resilience that doesn’t make us sub or super human, it makes us special, and everyone knows it because it’s our birthright.
“Black power, Black conjuring, Black magic—it all keeps their drawers and panties in a bunch.”
It is in fact, the magic, otherwise known as the ancestral spirit world, and all the things unseen, that has kept us, and keeps us standing in excellence and unexplainable survival. It is also precisely the fear of “Black magic”, or more accurately, the works of traditional African religions, that White benefactors of the transatlantic slave system and ongoing systemic racism, fears the most.
While we can’t draw a direct connection to the celebratory social media invention of #BlackGirlMagic big-uping and classical African religions or what is more modernly understood as the “The Holy Ghost”, we can reach, as Chavers massively reached–with what I might add, is a more fair and sensible suggestion–that magical Black girls are real.
It’s more than mere historical evidence and contemporary pop culture examples from Julie Dash’s seminal Daughter’s of the Dust, Eve’s Bayou, and Marie Laveau (played by Angela Bassett) and “American Horror Story: Coven” but also, actionable, real-time, real-ness of spiritual practices that not only makes us “strong” but manifests itself in the “my grandmother prayed for me” or “never woulda make it’, affirmations that informs blessings on blessings, and Serena Williams.
This push and pull powerless Linda expresses around her illness while simultaneously rejecting her spiritual power and cultural agency, is the real okie dokie, and Elle running the story like it’s just another viral moment, is the biggest coup of it all.
Black power, Black conjuring, Black magic—it all keeps their drawers and panties in a bunch. But beyond this, it keeps Black girls on our toes, and when we’re not quite feeling like ourselves, it help us get our stuff back.
And that dearest Linda, is never a thing to beef with.