Elle Writer Says She’s Not Here For #BlackGirlMagic, All Hell Breaks Loose

January 13, 2016  |  



Last week, Essence unveiled the gorgeous cover shots from their #BlackGirlMagic Class of 2016 issue. The rollout features beautiful Black women who are making significant strides in their respective industries. Well, the cover apparently inspired writer Linda Chavers to pen a think piece about why she’s bothered by black girl magic. The essay titled “Here’s My Problem With Black Girl Magic” was published by Elle today, and let’s just say that all hell broke loose.

Before we go any further, we should note that Chavers is a Black woman. Apparently, she feels that advertising the idea that Black girls are magic suggests that they are superhuman, and promotes the “widely held belief that black women [feel] no pain.” An excerpt from the piece reads:

But there’s something else that rubs me the wrong way about the phrase “black girl magic,” something less personal. When I see it, I smile and feel warm inside because I will always find delight in the sight of happy black girls and women. But then I pause, and my smile gets a little stale. It freezes in that way you notice in photos, when you can tell everyone’s pleased but getting a little bit tired of feigning enthusiasm. My face hardens and I start to feel plastic, and it’s because I’m thinking to myself: “I’ve heard this one before.”

And, reader, so have you.

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.

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.  It doesn’t begin or end with Henrietta Lacks and the cancer cells taken from her cervix without her or her family’s knowledge or permission. It doesn’t begin or end with black women receiving less anesthesia, if at all, in surgeries because of the widely held belief that black women felt no pain. It doesn’t begin or end with black women receiving improper and dangerous prenatal care or compulsory sterilizations.

One of our most collectively celebrated images of a black woman is the black woman who perseveres, who survives, who continues on. In pain. Suffering. It is the beautiful, tragic epitome of that strong black woman type we also collectively celebrate and simultaneously criticize. Shonda Rhimes’ trifecta of Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How To Get Away with Murder are among the best portrayals of this tension: the tension of celebrating and criticizing, dismantling this notion of the strong, silently suffering (black) woman. 

Another excerpt reads:

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. And it would be a magical feeling to be treated like human beings–who can’t fly, can’t bounce off the ground, can’t block bullets, who very much can feel pain, who very much can die. When I see “black girl magic,” I think, was Sandra Bland not magical enough? Renisha McBride? Miriam Carey? Perhaps she’d been trying to be magical and, failing, started to blame herself instead.

Initially, I was able to follow Miss Chavers’ logic—to an extent—but she eventually lost me. Black girl magic does not suggest that were are superhuman and do not feel pain. Instead, it’s a celebration of the amazing things that we have accomplished in spite of the oppressive forces which constantly seek to smother, choke and quiet us. To suggest that we should cease this celebration in any way is ludicrous.

As you have probably guessed, Black Twitter is pretty upset about the piece and Elle’s decision to publish it, so in no time, tweets defending the much-needed movement were pouring in. Here are a few highlights:

What are your thoughts on all of this?


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