It is hard to fathom that a black woman (a black woman with a master’s degree in English and a P.h.D in African-American studies no less) would find fault with the idea of #BlackGirlMagic, but that is precisely what happened with the essay Linda Chavers penned for Elle.com.
Chavers starts out her piece by talking about the three-cover spread Essence Magazine recently did celebrating #BlackGirlMagic and the different ways that people in Chavers’ own social network have used the hashtag, but then Chavers takes a sad and sharp left turn.
“Maybe it’s just me. 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.”
That suggests that Chavers feels she does not have #BlackGirlMagic because she is incapable of healing her physical ailments. That is an unfortunate bit of self-exclusion and far from the intent of #BlackGirlMagic. BGM does not turn every black woman into a her own personal Jesus but rather a genuine cheerleader of her own awesomeness as well as that of her fellow sisters. Goodness knows black women do not frequently get enthusiastic support (usually it’s quite the opposite), so it makes sense for black women to do for themselves.
If the essay then delved into more of an exploration of Chavers’ personal tension with BGM, that might have proven to be a compelling and emotionally engaging piece. However, Chavers chooses to lump #BlackGirlMagic into the dangerous “strong black woman” trope.
“Is it because we’re magical that Daniel Holtzclaw thought he could stalk, rape, threaten us, and get away with it? Maybe the Texas policeman who threw a bikini-clad black girl to the ground at a pool party thought she was magical and wouldn’t feel anything. Maybe the school security guard who grabbed a 14-year-old black girl, body slammed her and threw her across the room, thought she was magical and would bounce off the floor.
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.”
Chavers is correct in her assertion that the “strong black woman” stereotype can be harmful. Just like other people, black women most certainly feel pain, and denying such is detrimental. But #BlackGirlMagic is not about turning black women and girls into superhuman beings with the ability to fend off attacks armed only with a hip thrust, a hair flip, a side-eye and a viral tweet. #BlackGirlMagic is a spirited celebration of the humanity of black women and girls in spite of the numerous sexist, racist and classist attempts by this patriarchal society to tell us otherwise.
It is not literal physical magic. #BlackGirlMagic is a cultural magic. It is a spiritual salve that gives black women and girls the freedom to celebrate one another in a world that is often not as warm to them.
Unfortunately, that notion of sisterhood was mostly unavailable to Chavers in the hours and days after her piece was published. To her credit, Chavers re-tweeted and responded to many of her critics on Twitter. Some people resorted to name-calling, while others had more nuanced critiques about her essay. (Side Note: Chavers’ “folkswannapopoff” handle was created last year in regards to President Obama‘s remarks about the GOP)
But of course Twitter was not done, and a hashtag emerged: #ChaversNextArticle. Like many Black Twitter takedowns, it is a humorous and thought-provoking series of tweets. The general idea pokes fun at Chavers’ seemingly taking #BlackGirlMagic so literally.
I do not agree with Linda Chavers’ take on #BlackGirlMagic and it is all types of unfortunate that such a brow-furrowing essay that takes a negative stance on a positive black woman initiative appears on a website that is for and about white women. (Look at the bylines and content.) But I also do not feel the need to call Chavers names. Even if she does not recognize the beauty in #BlackGirlMagic, then I hope she’ll at least come to appreciate its value to countless other black women.