On Wednesday, ESSENCE magazine announced the debut of its new docu-series, Black Girl Magic, to much excitement as the white-owned and operated Elle Magazine published an article entitled “Here’s My Problem with #BlackGirlMagic.”
The author, Dr. Linda Chavers, argues that the term “Black Girl Magic” perpetuates the “strong, Black woman” archetype, which dehumanizes Black women instead of actually humanizing them.
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.
SAYING WE’RE SUPERHUMAN IS JUST AS BAD AS SAYING WE’RE ANIMALS, BECAUSE IT IMPLIES THAT WE ARE ORGANICALLY DIFFERENT.
Black girl magic suggests we are, again, something other than human. That might sound nitpicky, but it’s not nitpicky when we are still being treated as subhuman. And there’s a very long history of black women being treated as subhuman by the medical establishment, in spite of the debt Western medicine owes to them.
Chavers, a Black woman who suffers from multiple sclerosis, argues that for her, and women like her with illness and disability, will fail to achieve or feel this celebrated magical-ness of Black women. Instead, while people search for the moments of magic of Black women, they ignore the complex realities, robbing them of their humanity.
I’ve made sure to feel grateful for lightness and laughter. But one attitude I’ll never take on is the idea that I can be a “magical black woman.” That somewhere within me is some black girl magic. Because there isn’t. Everything inside and outside of me is flesh and bone and a nervous system (with bad signaling). Nothing magical.
Reactions to the article were mixed. Many attempted to clarify the purpose and message of the phrase. In an article also published on Elle.com, Ashley Ford says:
Black girls and women have been routinely denied their humanity in the face of a world ruled by racism, sexism, colorism, classism, and the enduring belief that our backs were built to carry what others would consider unimaginable burden. When we call ourselves beautiful anyway, when we succeed anyway, when we cry though they might never have imagined we had the capacity to feel so deeply, and when they find themselves wanting to imitate us anyway, that’s Black Girl Magic. We defy the limits they set for us, lies we refuse to enroll in. It’s not about tapping into something supernatural, it’s about claiming or re-claiming what other have refused to see.
Many took to social media to react to the article:
#BlackGirlMagic is saying we are powerful due to being able to embrace who we are & stand up for ourselves despite how society treats us.
— Chihiro Ogino (@WickedBeaute) January 13, 2016
Yall are really turning #BlackGirlMagic into a bad thing because you don’t feel as good about yourself as those who choose to use it?
— Iset Ashat Neferu (@LISSAHryaan) January 13, 2016
But the point of the #BlackGirlMagic movement is about embracing strengths because our weaknesses are spotlighted EVERY DAMN WHERE.
— Deola (@DeolaCola) January 13, 2016
I don’t feel comfortable attacking or even really critiquing another a black woman about her interpretation of #BlackGirlMagic
— Ejike [eh-jih-kāy] (@TheNewThinker) January 13, 2016