On Wednesday, Elle published an essay by Linda Chavers lamenting the use of the popular phrase “Black Girl Magic.” Chavers’ essay was prompted by Essence magazine’s use of the catchphrase for female black excellence on its February-issue covers.
“There’s something else that rubs me the wrong way about the phrase ‘black girl magic,’” writes Chavers. “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.”
Chavers surmises, “Black girl magic suggests we are, again, something other than human.”
Now, in fairness, there is no universal definition of “Black Girl Magic.” The phrase cannot be found in Webster’s Dictionary or even the Urban Dictionary. And Chavers is beyond entitled to her opinion.
But black girls and women, the most frequent users of the term, have almost universally agreed on the same meaning. And it’s nothing at all like what Chavers suggests.
Huffington Post editor Julee Wilson deems Black Girl Magic “a term used to illustrate the universal awesomeness of black women. It’s about celebrating anything we deem particularly dope, inspiring or mind-blowing about ourselves.” Image activist and cultural critic Michaela angela Davis, who used the term on a season 3 episode of BET’s Being Mary Jane, defines it, saying, “Black Girl Magic means we are shape-shifters, superheroes, styles-layers, soul scholars, truth seekers, sisters, healers, Holy Rollers, hotties, listeners, lovers, dreamers, divas, daredevils, doers of the damn thing … all at the same damn time.”
With less alliteration, this is how I’ve always interpreted and also used the term. Loretta Lynch (finally) gets confirmed as attorney general? Black Girl Magic! Sports Illustrated names Serena Williams sportsperson of the year (and she shows up on the cover with a “But can you handle it?” expression)? Black Girl Magic! FLOTUS Michelle Obama appears at the first black president’s last State of the Union looking like a bag of money? Black Girl Magic!
CaShawn Thompson, who says she is the creator of the term “Black Girl Magic” (the trademark for the term is owned by Beverly Bond of Black Girls Rock!), agrees with the way her phrase is commonly understood. “So many people have been able to feel confident around it and through it, and feel uplifted,” says Thompson, who has sold 3,000 T-shirts with the phrase plastered in loopy cursive. “That can never be a bad thing.”
Thompson is also not all that surprised by Chavers’ assessment of her phrase. She’s heard that complaint before. “It’s not for everybody,” Thompson says, taking the diplomatic road. “I still think all black girls are magic, even if everybody doesn’t see it for themselves.”