On a cool summer evening, I sat on a patio at a bar with my wife and our friend, Kenny. We’re three motivated and personally accomplished black people enjoying each other’s’ company while praising the merits of other motivated and accomplished black people that we knew. My wife and I took our merriment a little further and began to revel in our, and other black female mutual friends’, Black Girl Magic. Kenny smiled politely, but casually let it slip that he didn’t believe in Black Girl Magic.
“What?!” We asked.
He shrugged indifferently. “I just don’t know why y’all need to say it.” He sipped his drink, and waited for the reaction, which he knew was near. My wife and I were baffled. Beyond being woman-affirming feminists, we both get especially lifted off of the special brand of power that black women yield. The nearly drug-like euphoria that washes over us as Michelle Obama simply enters a room is something that we both regularly dream about. How could the same not happen for everyone else? In particular, Kenny: a proud black man dating a proud black woman. He spoke so highly of all the black women in his life; surely this was a mistake.
We asked more questions to get clarification. “Did you know that we’re the most educated group of people in the US?” “What about watching your single mother stretch her last dime and turn it into a meal for 6?” “Big Mama’s Thanksgiving feasts?!” “BEYONCE! WHAT ABOUT BEYONCE?!” Again, Kenny shrugged. “I just think that’s what you’re supposed to do.”
“Oh!” I shouted, “You take it all for granted!”
For those of you not in the know, Black Girl Magic is a term coined in 2013 by CaShawn Thompson to celebrate all the things that black woman achieve with so many forces against us. In an article with the Los Angeles Times, she was quoted as saying, “Sometimes our accomplishments might seem to come out of thin air, because a lot of times, the only people supporting us are other black women.”
While I was fortunate to have a lot of teachers, family and professors in my corner, praising my academic accomplishments throughout my youth, I recognize that this is not often the case. Close black woman friends of mine were told that they weren’t cut out for college and discouraged from going altogether. One friend who had a baby out-of-wedlock at 16 was deemed unworthy, unlovable and doomed to failure. High school councilors refused to even talk to her about college, telling her there was no way that she could raise a child and graduate. Yet less than 10 years after having her first child, she was graduating with her master’s degree in secondary education and is now the principal of a school. I can’t imagine how hard it must have been to raise a smart and confident daughter while working and going to school herself, but also while everyone around her was telling her that she was better off giving up. “Focus on your daughter’s education, so she won’t make the same mistakes you did.” But she found that Magic within her and succeeded. And her daughter, having that inspiration, is a magical success story as well.
It’s not that we want credit for doing things that other people do. Plenty of other groups of marginalized people have similar success stories. But when you grow up a black woman, from the moment you’re brought into this world, you’re told how you could improve. “Don’t dance like that.” “Be confident, black women, that’s why you can’t get a man.” “Stop being so confident, black women, that’s why you can’t get a man.” It’s our fault if we’re single mothers. It’s our fault if we wait too long to become mothers. We somehow both focus too much on our careers and not enough on our careers. We pray too much and not enough. We don’t support black men enough, yet if a woman is the primary breadwinner while her partner goes to school, she’s an idiot. Taking charge of our own lives can make us a queen one day and a whore the next.
For lesbians and trans women, we receive another message. Those of us who have no interest in attaching ourselves to men, or have transitioned from being one, are often met with confusion, distrust, even violence. We often have no role models at all and have to find pockets of community among each other. Between moral outrage at our existence and our disconnection from the male gaze, queer black women often grown up with no one to look up to.
And yet we persevere. Heterosexual, homosexual, cis-gendered, transgendered and all in between, black women find strength inside ourselves, our crew and our alters of burning sage next to an 8×10 of Oprah Winfrey. We make a dollar out of 15 cents, all while the modern world assures us that we deserve less than that.
I need Black Girl Magic. I need to see my friend Toya publish a book while raising a child, completing her doctorate and having the biggest health scare of her life. I need to see my wife put on the concert of her dreams in one of the city’s premiere venues. I need Beyonce! Because there are so many images, people, think-pieces, exes, Hoteps, bosses, family members, pastors, Steve Harveys, etc. that are going to tell me that I can’t. But I need that Black Girl Magic to fill my soul and radiate through every part of my body and show me that I can.
Tianna Glass-Tripp is a comedic writer, blogger and one half of Gripp Productions; a creative consulting team with a focus on community. She enjoys creating work that celebrates her blackness, her womanism, her queerness and everything in between. Follow her Twitter: @TiannaGripp.