#BlackGirlMagic. A beautiful hashtag, born out of beautiful intentions, to celebrate the magnificence that black women exude regularly.
Since its inception, #blackgirlmagic has spawned a movement to recognize, uplift, and celebrate the contributions that black women have made across all parts of society. At its core, #blackgirlmagic celebrates the very existence of black women themselves, in a world that has often left them with the brunt of pain, neglect, and oppression. It cannot be emphasized enough just how important this hashtag is, and what it’s come to represent.
But. That doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been misused.
Specifically, misused by outliers who have taken the hashtag #blackgirlmagic, and hijacked it to a place that can best be described as a… “distorted pedestal”.
Distorted, because instead of celebrating in an authentic manner, black women are instead elevated to a status that ignores all of their vulnerabilities, places all the world’s woes on their shoulders, and utilizes them as a fantasy ideal for other people’s growth/escape.
It can come from anywhere and anyone—non-blacks/PoC who’ve used the hashtag as a means to separate black women from each other and spurn discourse. Or the actions of men—often those in our own community—who elevate women recognized as exuding #blackgirlmagic to a pedestal that serves to stroke their ego and hyper-masculine perceptions of love, individuality, and creative freedom.
It’s the same line of reasoning behind the controversy of calling black women superheroes all the time. Yes, we’re incredible and we’ve done incredible things. And yes, it’s alright to call us superheroes every now and again—because damn it, we are.
When there evolves a certain implication that that’s all we’re expected to be, there’s a problem. When we’re only expected to save you, and the burning trash fire that is the state of the world—to the neglect of our own self-care/respect—that’s a problem. When we’re only expected to possess these mythical notions of perfection that don’t exist, that’s a problem.
And when our unabashed self-love and creative expression is only recognized as a means to stroke and uplift your fragile ego? That’s a problem.
Because in cases like those, #blackgirlmagic has ceased to be just that—magical—and instead has evolved into something much more harmful: the new “manic pixie dream girl”.
What is a Manic Pixie Dream Girl?
Coined in 2006 by Nathan Rabin in his review of Elizabethtown, Manic Pixie Dream Girl has become synonymous with any girl who comes across as quirky, free-spirited, and unafraid to test the status quo. Some notable examples include the characters Amelie, Ramona Flowers, and—the “original” hipster quirky girl herself—Zooey Deschanel.
The deeply problematic nature of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl is just as I’ve described above—a character type whose sole purpose is to enlighten someone else’s (i.e man’s) purpose, fix their character flaws, and—of course—satisfy their sexual fantasies.
In Zooey Deschanel’s case, its nearly every character she plays: from Summer in 500 Days of Summer, to Trillian in Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy, to Jess in New Girl.
Rabin himself admitted that the Manic Pixie Dream girl “exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries.”
In essence, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl perpetuates this idea that women exist to transform men, and men need these particular types of women to transform themselves.
In relation to #blackgirlmagic…
Now that being openly “quirky”, “alternative” and free-spirited in the black community has become mainstream—thanks in part to festivals such as Afropunk, celebrities such as Janelle Monae, SZA, Willow Smith etc. and the growing popularity of goth and anime subcultures—the Manic Pixie Girl ideals have shifted themselves onto the blanket hashtag of #blackgirlmagic, creating problems where there need not have been any.
In the realm of dating, it’s when #blackgirlmagic somehow means we’re supposed to be romantics/lovers/therapists/makeshift rehabilitation centers, all while rocking our fresh unshakeable ‘dos, effortless looks, and sexual prowess. (But not too much sexual prowess, otherwise that’s a no-no)
In mainstream (non-black/PoC) media, it’s when #blackgirlmagic encompasses everything that is shiny, gimmicky, and aesthetic cotton candy (all sugar and no substance), while feverishly ignoring the actual stories, art, and visions that ache to be told, no matter how “dark” or “uncomfortable”.
In society, it’s when #blackgirlmagic takes our tongue-in-cheek motto of “fuck it, I’ll do it” to mean “don’t worry, they’ll fix it” when it comes to everything and everyone but ourselves.
In our own community, it’s when #blackgirlmagic is used to separate us into useless categories, build unhealthy competition, and spawn resentment between one another.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. #BlackGirlMagic doesn’t have to be anything more than what it was originally intended to be: a celebration of us.
Nothing more. Nothing less.
As black girls fully embracing their natural magic, we are not meant to take on your emotional burdens for ourselves. Our nature is not to help you find yourself, or the carefree soul just waiting to be noticed. We’re human, just like everyone else—multi-faceted, powerful, and independent.
And hell yes, we are magical. We are magic.
But, just because we happen to possess all these amazing qualities that stir inspiration within yourselves, does not mean you have to steal our fires in order to light your own candles. It does not mean that you reap all that we’ve sown, just to build yourself up.
It’s so important in these times to prevent #blackgirlmagic from becoming some sort of misogynoir interpretation of the magical negro. And it’s definitely important to ensure it doesn’t completely flip on itself and turn into Manic Pixie Dream Girl 2.0 (Sorry Mr. Rabin, I’m leaving that back in ’06 where it belongs).
With the addition of sexism and wish fulfillment, those who use #blackgirlmagic as an excuse to ignore their own shortcomings in favor of projecting self-harming behavior and insecurities onto others is doing nobody any favors. Allow black women to be magical. Allow them to be superheroes.
But not at the expense of themselves, or their self-autonomy. We’re not here to be the answer to all your problems, but hopefully through our trials, tribulations, successes and celebrations, we manage to uplift and inspire some along the way.
Otherwise, y’all can forget about using the term. Because if it’s being twisted in such drastic a manner? It obviously was never meant for you.
And obviously how you really feel, is this:
In the words of the queen Janelle Monae herself,
“Black girl magic, y’all can’t stand it.”
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Atlanta based starchild with an insatiable love of all things sci-fi, rock, geeky, and Jeff Goldblum.