Unravelling The Mystery Behind #BlackGirlMagic

If you’ve been on social media from 2013 to now, then you’ve probably seen the hashtag #BlackGirlMagic. Many think these are simple hashtags that celebrate Blackness or Black people. These people are not wrong; however, the significance of this hashtag runs much deeper than an awesome Instagram caption.

#BlackGirlMagic is a movement.

In 2013, CaShawn Thompson included the hashtag #BlackGirlsAreMagic – later shortened to #BlackGirlMagic – onto one of her tweets. Since then, #BlackGirlMagic has only increased in popularity, with countless users from various social media platforms using the hashtag daily. The popular hashtag has been used by the likes of Solange Knowles, Misty Copeland, and even former United States President Barack Obama.

In an interview with Blavity, Thompson said that she coined the hashtag at a time when a lot of negative perceptions were being shared about Black women. She said:

“At the time that I put the hashtag online there was this deluge of negative press about black women. An article had come out in Psychology Today about us [black women] being the least physically attractive people on the planet, and then there was something on another platform about us having STD’s, and then there was something else about us not being marriageable; all this negative propaganda, just one bad thing after another,” she said. “That was not my experience at all. I know plenty of black women who are married and have partners. I see black women as being extremely beautiful.”

CaShawn Thompson in an interview with Blavity News, 2017

The goal in sharing #BlackGirlMagic, according to Thompson, was to unite Black women from across the globe to celebrate their accomplishments in a society that traditionally overlooks them. Many use this hashtag to humanize Black women and bring awareness to their history. Black women are one of the most disenfranchised social demographics worldwide. #BlackGirlMagic creates a community in which Black women are front and center. In this space, Black women are deemed remarkable for the very things that mainstream culture chooses to ignore about them.

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This begs the question: why do Black women need a hashtag to celebrate Black, female accomplishments?

As previously stated, Black women are frequently marginalized from every aspect of mainstream society. Take beauty standards for example. Western society does not view Afrocentric features as beautiful. The standard of beauty in places like America, Canada, and many countries in Europe is Eurocentric features. Light skin, straight hair, slim noses, and small waists are claimed to be more beautiful than the features that Black women have, such as kinky hair and wide hips.

In the rare case that Afrocentric features are called beautiful, they are not admired on Black bodies. For example, mainstream society views Kylie Jenner to be more attractive than multiple Black women who have similar features as hers, like Normani or Ari Lennox. Black female bodies are frequently fetishized; however, their features are rarely appreciated on their bodies.

Unfortunately, the beauty industry is just one aspect of society where Black women are ignored and disregarded. The educational system, the criminal justice system, the health system, the entertainment industry, and the workforce are all riddled with systemic racism, anti-Blackness and sexism. Thompson’s own struggle to gain recognition and profits for #BlackGirlMagic exemplifies how Black people are erased and excluded from mainstream culture.

Explaining why systemic racism is so prevalent against Black women requires analyzing years of biases and discriminatory ideologies that date back before slavery. In short, settlers and colonizers believed that they were the superior race; therefore, anybody who did not look like them was inferior. Due to patriarchy, women were always regarded as being less than. Therefore, being a Black woman meant that you not only were immoral, but you were substandard in comparison to people of other races.

These beliefs are covert but still prevalent in Western society.

These beliefs also contribute to the justification of discrimination against Black women. Breaking free from the bonds that history has placed on an entire race of people has proven to be difficult. This is why #BlackGirlMagic is so necessary. No matter where Black women go they hear that they “aren’t good enough”. No matter their personality, their bank account, or their degrees, Black women hear the word “no” a lot. Most of the time this rejection is solely given because of the negative perceptions attached to the colour of their skin.

#BlackGirlMagic creates fellowship that does not reject Black women. This space does not tell them that they “aren’t good enough”. In fact, this community tells Black women that they are more than good enough. It provides freedom from the scrutiny and rejection that is within the social institutions we belong to.

Like any successful revolution, #BlackGirlMagic has been met with controversy.

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One of the hashtag’s most frequent criticisms that this movement excludes women of other races from being celebrated. In an article posted by BBC News, the resistance to #BlackGirlMagic and its frequently used counter hashtag #WhiteGirlMagic, are explored. Thompson addressed the resistance by explaining that white women haven’t experienced a lot of the oppression that Black women have. This is not to say that white women have not experienced oppression; sexism is just as prevalent as racism, and white women experience it fully. However, there are privileges given to white women that aren’t given to Black women. This lack of resources further marginalizes Black women from their communities, contributing to the endless cycle of systemic racism in society.

Thompson, and many other people who counter this argument, believe that #BlackGirlMagic is one way that Black women can fill the gap between themselves and the opportunities lost due to racism. This movement creates a space where Black women can be celebrated. To negate this by calling it racist continues to ignore the pain that Black women who face racism, oppression, and isolation feel.

Despite its positive intentions, some Black women feel as if this movement creates an unhealthy perception of their fellow Black women.

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In 2016, Dr. Linda Chavers wrote an article for Elle. In this article, Chavers challenged the effectiveness of the #BlackGirlMagic movement. In her article, Chavers said:

Saying we’re superhuman is just as bad as saying we’re animals, because it implies that we are organically different, that we don’t feel just as much as any other human being. Black girls and women are humans. That’s all we are. 

Dr. Linda Chavers for Elle, 2016

Chavers argues that saying Black girls are magical attaches an unrealistic image to them. She makes comparisons to the negative treatment of Black women as a result of the strong, Black woman stereotype. Similarly, she argues, by holding Black women to a “subhuman” standard, it is likely that they will not be given equal or fair treatment. From assistance to resources, Black women will lose these things because their magical status suggests that they can do without.

To contrasts Chaver’s arguments, Elle released another article that argued there is nothing wrong with #BlackGirlMagic.

The author of this article, Ashley Ford, stated that the purpose of #BlackGirlMagic is not to claim that Black women are otherworldly. Rather, its purpose is to commemorate the things about Black women that mainstream society refuses to acknowledge. She counters Chaver’s claims about #BlackGirlMagic having the same dangers as the strong, Black woman trope by saying this:

Black Girl Magic moves way beyond the trope of impenetrable strength, and because it was created by a black woman, includes the inside joke of calling what we’ve always known to be real about our capabilities “magic.” Thompson knew what she was doing, and she did it well. She helped us name the unique experience of living in this world as black women and finding a way to cross that line.

Ashley Ford for Elle, 2016
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#BlackGirlMagic is not about suggesting that Black women are more than human.

As Ford argued, the movement aims to shine a light on the things that the world refuses to see in Black women. Some argue that in celebrating the simple, everyday things that Black women accomplish, we are “limiting their experiences“.

I don’t find this to be the case.

#BlackGirlMagic acknowledges the pain and suffering that Black women in the Western world have faced. This movement recognizes that Black women have been denied humaneness for centuries. In fact, #BlackGirlMagic embraces these obstacles and oppression and celebrates the women who have accomplished great things despite these limitations. This movement encourages young Black girls to dream bigger than they ever have before. #BlackGirlMagic cultivates a positivity-induced online community for Black women as they navigate their spaces.

The purpose of #BlackGirlMagic is not to celebrate the mundane. It doesn’t encourage girls to do the bare minimum to receive praise. #BlackGirlMagic celebrates the essence of Black femininity. It doesn’t just praise looks or accomplishments, nor does it fail to acknowledge the emotions that Black women feel. #BlackGirlMagic encapsulates the experiences of being a Black female, regardless of where you live, what you do, or how you do it. #BlackGirlMagic praises Black women for overcoming the very difficult task of thriving in communities that want to see them fail. This movement aims to give Black women their humanity back in a world that has previously taken it away from them.

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