The hashtag and overall sentiment #blackgirlsaremagic was coined by Cashawn Thompson, who gives laughs, love and life on Twitter as @thepbg. I remember being very excited when she brought the saying to a T-shirt line, so that Black girls, literally, could say it with their chests. I’ve ordered about four of Cashawn’s tees: two for myself and two for my daughter, Nay. We’ve worn them to grocery stores and as we’ve eaten beignets in New Orleans. I iron them up and lay them out, because I am desperately trying to teach my daughter that she deserves to take up space in the world, and that she should always be very proud of who she is.
Nay smiles bright when she gets to wear her tee, too. She is a flower child—equal parts flighty and carefree, serious and decisive. What the world sees as “focus issues,” I call creative and imaginative. Although I know she will be labeled, as her body, mind and personality grows, as fast-tailed and bossy and “mad,” I am whispering to her daily that she is beautiful and smart, that it’s okay to lead, not follow. And that, yes, she is magic. I am fighting daily to show my daughter how to love herself, just as she is, in a world seemingly committed to hating her while simultaneously rendering her invisible.
Although my mother didn’t call me magic, she did tell me every chance she got that I was special and worthy and full of somebody-ness. What I believe was missing from my conversations with my mother, and what I try to add to the talks I have with my daughter, is that we, Black girls and women, are enough. That our lives and our pain matter, that we don’t have to work and cook and clean and fight and give until we are mentally emotionally and physically bankrupt. That we can be none or all of what we have learned Black women should be, and that regardless of who we choose to become, we still shimmer like the sun.
If I were to answer Elle writer Linda Shavers’s question about whether Black women calling themselves magic takes away some of our ordinary humanity, I’d say that the opposite is true. If we taught Black women we are magic just as we stand, that we don’t have to be some fictitious, perfect mix of saint and vixen, down chick and goal chaser, successful, high-earning housewife and PTO president—if we didn’t expect Black women to be so much of everything to everyone but ourselves—then the Black superwoman schema would not exist.
But that is not what we do. We teach Black women that our magic is a goal—a destination instead of something we are born with. As a community, it seems we agree with the world when it says Black women are the opposite of beautiful or desirable or even kind. The world covets and exalts what Black women fashion out of little to nothing, then refuses to acknowledge the origin of [insert amazing thing that is commodified]. Collard greens are the rave now, and so are fat asses, and goddess braids, and baby hairs, and full lips—as long as none of them are donned by Black women.
To be adored yet abhorred in the countless way Black women are, to be told over and over again that we are unwanted and unvalued and plain ugly, and still strut through life as we do… baby if that ain’t magic, I don’t know what is.
#Blackgirlsaremagic upholds the humanity of Black women and Black girls, it doesn’t subtract from it. Dr. Yaba Blay, Dan Blue endowed chair in political science at North Carolina Central University and creator of #PrettyPeriod, agrees. As we spoke about Chavers’s post at Elle.com, she shared the following:
Yes, [Black girls] are human and yes, we are magic. Those aren’t competing realities.
To say we are magic is not to say that we are not human. It is to say that in spite of, or maybe even because of, all that we have to navigate, negotiate, and withstand as Black girls and Black women in a society that was not set up for us to survive let alone succeed, we are out here winning! Each and every one of us. So when we say “Black Girls are Magic,” we are affirming that.
We live in a time and space where major news outlets compare one of the world’s greatest athletes—Serena Williams—to a horse; where comedians refer to an exceptionally talented child actor—Quvenzhané Wallis—as a cunt; and where school officials (read: grown men) drag little girls—like the young sister at Spring Valley High School in South Carolina—out of their chairs because they “disturb school.”When we say “Black girls are magic,” we are affirming all the ways we are thriving in the face of White Supremacist patriarchal terror. We are reminding ourselves of who and what we are. And, most importantly, we are affirming and supporting and reflecting one another.
We magic. We lit. And we will continue to name ourselves, even if you can’t stand it. So, you know, stay mad.
Josie Pickens is an educator, cultural critic and soldier of love. Follow her musings on Twitter at @jonubian.