Why we need movements like #BlackGirlMagic

Proving there’s more to online activism than just a hashtag, this movement fights the laundry of stereotypes placed upon WoC

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Beyonce's Formation

Imagine a collective of black girls celebrating the very essence of who we are. From our melanin complexion and kinky hair to our minds and bodies, all rounded up in a form of social activism. Today, that is being fulfilled with #BlackGirlMagic – a hashtag born on Twitter which has become a place where self-love amongst black girls is nurtured. It’s a phrase that we state proudly across discussion boards, tweets and Instagram posts, all while creating a movement for black girls to further a positive representation in mainstream media.

Since activist CaShawn Thompson declared that black girls are magic in 2013, she has created a phrase which joins the likes of #arthoe and #blacklivesmatter in turning a hashtag into a movement spearheaded by people of colour. Through this hashtag, we’ve seen creativity highlighted amongst black girls – whether that’s through music videos like Beyoncé’s "Formation", films like Cecile Emeke’s Ackee & Saltfish series – to magazines like Essence creating a #BlackGirlMagic issue, filled with kick ass girls including actress Tracee Ellis Ross and activist Jessica Byrd.

While the motive behind #BlackGirlMagic may be clear to some, it continues to fly above the heads of many. We saw this with #whitegirlmagic — a trending topic in 2015, which was used as a way to criticise #BlackGirlMagic for its exclusion of white girls (seriously) — to last month’s highly publicised 2016 ELLE op-ed by Linda Chavers. Chavers discussed her problem with #BlackGirlMagic in her feature, claiming that it adds to the stereotype of black women being labelled as ‘superhuman’ and abnormal. While Chavers’ opinion on #BlackGirlMagic has opened a new debate on whether it’s an acceptable phrase to describe black girls, the movement seems to be gaining more momentum every day. Here’s why it’s so important.

“It’s like the millennial ‘girl power’ – but reserved especially for the caramel and chocolate sistas”

FOCUSES ON POSITIVE REPRESENTATIONS OF BLACK GIRLS

#BlackGirlMagic aims to focus on positive representations of black girls, in a society which often limits how we’re perceived. If it’s not labelling TV producer Shonda Rhimes an “Angry Black Woman’ in an NYTimes article – despite being labelled the queen of Thursday night TV thanks to the popularity of Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder – it’s demeaning another black girl making positive moves in her career. Take Viola Davis for example – as an acclaimed actress with an Oscar nomination and an Emmy win for her role as Annalise Keating in How to Get Away With Murder –  she was limited to being labelled as a “less classically beautiful actress” by critic Alessandra Stanley in a 2014 NYT article, in comparison to lighter skinned actress Kerry Washington. The colorism within Stanley’s statement is an example of pitting women against one another, and focusing on turning positivity amongst black women into a negative. This type of commentary continues to further perpetuate the stereotype of black women tearing each other down, and giving into the light skin vs dark skin debate while detracting from all the good these black women are doing as representatives of diversity in TV. Movements like #BlackGirlMagic are used to combat negative representations just like this, and to create a support system that focuses on all the cool things black girls are doing, free from underhanded comments and fabricated girl-on-girl hate. It’s like the millennial ‘girl power’ – but reserved especially for the caramel and chocolate sistas.

SHOWS A DISPLAY OF SOLIDARITY

In Amandla Stenberg's recent Teen Vogue interview, she claimed that #BlackGirlMagic bears similarities to the ‘shine theory’. The ‘shine theory’ – as she describes in a discussion about girl power with singer Solange Knowles – suggests that “when you become friends with other powerful, like-minded people, you all just shine brighter.” Like Stenberg says, there is power in solidarity, and #BlackGirlMagic is a great way to support and uplift black girls as a collective unit. It’s a way to celebrate our afro curls, dreads and kinky braids, without being accused of smelling of weed, or our melanin complexion in a world which tries to divide us. It celebrates our achievements when we graduate from school, or get a promotion at work. Basically, whenever we do something that is not stereotypical of black girls according to mainstream media we celebrate it!

CREATES A SAFE SPACE FOR BLACK GIRLS TO BE PROTECTED

Political reporter Julia Craven wrote in her 2015 Huffington Post op-ed that “There's an ugly, persistent stereotype that black girls and women are naturally defiant and unruly and need to be forcibly kept in check.” This stereotype hits close to the bone, especially when you count the numerous incidences this past year, where it seems to be justified for a school security guard to grab a 14-year-old black girl and body slam her across the room. It’s OK for a Texas policeman to throw a bikini-clad black girl to the ground at a pool party, or to threaten a 28-year old Sandra Bland with a stun gun, slam her to the ground and arrest her for a minor traffic violation, only for her to be found dead in a Texan county jail. While #BlackGirlMagic might be a hashtag on Twitter to some, it can also provide comfort for black girls in a world that doesn’t seem to care for their wellbeing.

REJECTS STEREOTYPES AND OVERSEXULISATION OF BLACK GIRLS

In a recent interview with Dazed, curator Janice Bond spoke on fighting stereotypes associated with the black body in her recent exhibition Abandoned Margins: Policing the Black Female Body. Bond says that the inspiration behind the exhibition is the core belief that black women should have “the right and agency one has to live in their own body as they wish, and without the type of judgment and harm than many of us have experienced”, as opposed to something that is fetished and hypersexualised. #BlackGirlMagic provides a space to reshape the vision of black girls away from being oversexualised, demonised and mocked in society. It continues to fight the laundry list of stereotypes placed upon us, through celebrating pro black art movements like Bond’s exhibition, and promoting the achievements of young black girls which oppose these overt stereotypes.

BECAUSE IT’S MORE THAN JUST A HASHTAG

Like #blacklivesmatter or #youoksis? – #BlackGirlMagic has become more than just a hashtag. It’s caused much debate, discussion, and continues to further the topic of black girls and our representation while serving as a sort of virtual high five but also a supportive statement in our times of need. In 2016, Essence released their first #BlackGirlMagic issue, which featured activist Johnetta Elzie, and actresses Yara Shahidi and Teyonah Paris on their covers. In Yara’s interview, she expressed that the best thing about being a black girl is “being a part of this re-emergence of a movement both pro-diversity and pro-woman.” #BlackGirlMagic is a staple in furthering diversity for WoC, in hopes that we can be represented in a way we can be proud of. What started as a hashtag on Twitter has turned into a global conversation that no one can ignore. Black girls are more present than ever thanks to this simple phrase, and I don’t know about you, but there is definitely something magical about that.

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