Danielle Hawkins is a 19-year-old student at the Savannah College of Art and Design. When she isn’t working on her sketches, she can be found reading about black feminism or scrolling through Tumblr. That’s where she first came across the hashtag #carefreeblackgirls. Before long, she’d launched her own blog with the same name.
Although there’s no consensus about the origins of the 18-letter social media stamp, a cursory search of Topsy indicates that the first recorded use of #carefreeblackgirls on Twitter was in May 2013 by writer Zeba Blay. What’s much clearer is the extent of its appeal among a group of black women who, for more than a year, have used it to anchor expressions of individuality and whimsy in the face of the heavy stereotypes and painful realities that too often color discussions of their demographic.
“#Carefreeblackgirls was so attractive to me because of my own hyperawareness of issues that specifically affect black women,” Hawkins told The Root. “The whole concept was like a breath of fresh air. Being aware of the black female struggle is important, but it’s just nice to decompress and focus on the positive.”
Her blog’s self-description is, “A safe space for black girls across the globe and beyond to share their diverse fashions, passions, conversations, and cultures without any drama—and a home away from the various struggles we face in the real world.” On it, you’ll find images of everything from a serene-looking woman with an untamed white-gray Afro to a group of friends dressed like Disney’s Doc McStuffins to a brown-skinned girl in a pink dress caught midtoss as she gleefully scatters flower petals.
Instead of arguing explicitly against archetypes of black women (Jezebel, strong black woman, mammy, welfare queen, video vixen—take your pick), Hawkins and others who use the hashtag simply present an alternative, communicating with words and images, “We’re multidimensional, and we’re OK.”
Enthusiasts embrace a subset of celebrities whom they see as icons of individuality: Kelis, Solange, Chiara de Blasio, Janelle Monáe, Rihanna, Willow Smith and Erykah Badu. On their Tumblrs and Instagrams, flower crowns, bright prints, laughter and bicycles are recurring themes.
Amid headline-grabbing cases of black women like Renisha McBride, Marissa Alexander and Jada, the teen whose rape was mocked on social media—which many argue are reminders that black women are seen as less than fully human—members of the #carefreeblackgirls crowd assert that they’re much more than just tropes and topics of tragic stories.
As Jamala Johns wrote in a January piece for Refinery29, “By putting the word ‘carefree’ front and center, it’s making a statement that we don’t want to be solely defined by hardships and stereotypes so we can enjoy our lives as we please. Carefree should not be mistaken with careless.”
Along with its sister hashtags #blackgirlsarefromthefuture, #quirky black girls and #blackgirlsaremagic, #carefreeblackgirls is fueled by what feels like an urgent need to push back on mainstream stereotypes, which can be amplified online. Blogger Hannah Giorgis, creator of the popular feminist Tumblr blog Ethiopienne, said it’s no mistake that the “carefree black girl” archetype has been popularized there.
“I think on Twitter #carefreeblackgirls is important because so much anti-black misogyny is perpetuated right on that forum, oftentimes by black boys and men whose sisters might be targeted with the same vitriol,” Giorgis said.