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Self-love. Self-affirmation. Self-awareness. These are just some of the reasons that I celebrate the #blackgirlmagic movement. And, while I wasn’t sold on the name of the movement at first, I am all herefor celebrating and elevating black women and black girls.
Existing at the intersections of race and gender, black women are rarely told that they are intellectual, pretty, enough or educated. Instead, black women are often relegated to carefully constructed stereotypes: Jezebel, Mammy or Sapphire -these traits were discussed in an earlier blog post which you can access, here and here for my research paper. In a world buoyed by patriarchy and white supremacy, rarely does the media promote positive and loving images of black women and so the #blackgirlmagic is a necessary and apt proclamation. And, it’s crazy that this self-love is often deemed as problematic and unpatriotic (ie: anti-white).
It’s not that crazy.
But, westernized black women stereotypes have real world, real life effects, particularly because of the fundamental connection between domination and representation. (hint: 99.9999999 percent of the time those that remain dominant control representation and historical narratives…) And, obviously, the ways in which these stereotypes undermine the credibility and inherent value of black women.
I am most often painfully aware of the struggle for black representation and the tension of internalized racism in, perhaps ironically, black hair salons and black hair stores.
It is not uncommon for black hair stores to include a shelf row (or sometimes entire shelves) to these small, magic bottles which, when applied, will bleach dark skin into lighter skin.
As if your sista black girl needed another reason to hate herself and her dark skin…. add some bleach.
Indeed, lye, which is a common ingredient for many straightening creams, when applied to the hair can cause permanent damage to the scalp and to the hair resulting in severe burns and hair loss.
And yet, these are just acceptable risks when aiming to achieve “white perfection.”
I will never forget when my own hair started to fall out as a result of a home straightening kit. Or, when a friend was left with patchy bald spots on her own head due to a similar kit.
As a child, I was fundamentally convinced that if I could have lighter skin and straighter hair not only would I be prettier, but I would also be more intellectual. But, as a child, I could not articulate these views. I could not, as bell hooks so aptly states, say:
“Mommy, I am upset that after all these years from babyhood on, I thought I was a marvelous, beautiful, gifted girl, only to discover that the world does not see me this way.”
I had no means of articulating my own internalized white supremacist views and indeed, this internalization often led to a deep, unsettled, visceral rage.
And, because you know me, you already know I am going to add some academia into this. Just in case you need to add some additional black female scholars to your list. (HINT: You probably do).
Lorde, in her critical essay, “Eye to Eye” says this about the rage regarding internalized racism and sexism:
We [black women] do not love ourselves, therefore we cannot love each other. Because we see in each other’s face our own face, the face we never stopped wanting. Because we survived and survival breeds desire for more self. A face we never stopped wanting at the same time as we try to obliterate it. Why don’t we meet each other’s eyes? Do we expect betrayal in each other’s gaze, or recognition?
But, this story is not a new story. Indeed, I could say the same for many black children in the States.
But, it is an important one to investigate.
|Photo retrieved from Google Photos
In the 1960s, Doctors Kenneth and Mamie Clarke designed the doll test, a test designed to study the psychological effects of racial segregation on African American children.
“Drs. Clark used four dolls, identical except for color, to test children’s racial perceptions. Their subjects, children between the ages of three to seven, were asked to identify both the race of the dolls and which color doll they prefer. A majority of the children preferred the white doll and assigned positive characteristics to it. The Clarks concluded that “prejudice, discrimination, and segregation” created a feeling of inferiority among African-American children and damaged their self-esteem.”
This test has been replicated over the past few decades, and the results remain disturbingly similar. Black children continue to believe that the “white doll” is better, smarter and prettier than the black doll.
But it’s not black children that believe this. It’s black adults. It’s white adults. And, it’s societal. One of the categories for my yearly work performance reviews is “Appearance.” While I have often chosen to wear my hair natural either braided or in a simple afro puff, I could not help but notice the additional compliments I received this past year when I wore a straight weave. Everyone from my boss to fellow colleagues to my clients to family members gave me a version of, and some exactly the following:
“You look so professional,”
“you look so smart,”
“you look so pretty”
“you look like you could be a model”
Each one of the “compliments” followed a prescribed ideological model: Straight is better. White is best.
Not once did I receive those same compliments when my hair was not in a weave. As an educator, I have made it part of my job to intentionally notice and affirm each black girls hair whether it is worn naturally or not.
And, it’s why I push for multicultural, multiracial and multiethnic representation in education.
It’s why I work in the educational field.
In her series of essays in “Black Looks,” bell hooks offers the following:
“…and it struck me that for black people, the pain of learning that we cannot control our images, how we see ourselves (if our vision is not decolonized), or how we are seen is so intense that it rends us. It rips and tears at the seams of our efforts to construct self and identity. Often it leaves us ravaged by repressed rage, feeling weary, dispirited, and sometimes just plain old brokenhearted. These are the gaps in our psyche that are the spaces where mindless complicity, self-destructive rage, hatred, and paralyzing despair enter (9).”
Challenging the ways in which black people and blackness have been historically represented must become a critical, intentional part of the liberation movement. We must consider the ways in which we write and talk about the images we produce andthose of which are produced about us. And, we must offer into academia new critiques which have not been spoken. Too often, our main stream racial critiques have been regulated to reactions against representations created by white people that are blatantly stereotypical. And, yet, we often do not discuss the ways in which we, as black people, also market ourselves in similar stereotypical styles.
Little progress is made if we continue to push for change without challenging and shifting paradigms.
This argument should not be mistaken for a total disregard of the way things are. I submit, that the black economy has historically functioned in tandem, though not equitably or even consciously, with the white market economy. And, there is an odd sense of justification in that it makes sense to comply with those whom make the rules. And yet, I also submit that black representation requires radical intervention and revolutionary attitudes. To do this, we must think critically and take risks and ask hard questions.
To do this, we can no longer remain complicit with old, harmful traditions.
So, I am all here for the #blackgirlmagic movement because I also think that we have a platform to disrupt old ways of representation. And, I’m all here for the #blackgirlmagic movement because I hope that it morphs into something that challenges contemporary ideologies regarding self-love and black bodies.
For me, #blackgirlmagic celebrates the beauty and richness of black womanhood and black girlhood. For me, #blackgirlmagic is a conversation starter that I hope will one day include real, sustainable discussions about black female mental health. For me, #blackgirlmagic is hope.
As a black woman, loving one’s own blackness is such an important and fundamental affirmation and practice, but it also fraught with political connotations. As bell hooks so aptly states in “Black Looks:”
“[m]ost folks in this society do not want to openly admit that “blackness” as sign primarily evokes in the public imagination of whites (and all the other groups who learn that one of the quickest ways to demonstrate one’s kinship within a white supremacist order is by sharing racist assumptions) hatred and fear…when present it is deemed suspect, dangerous and threatening (10).”
But, loving one’s self and blackness is important life-giving and life-saving work. I am often reminded how important it is for black women and black girls to be affirmed and given equitable opportunities. I recently began reading the book, Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools by Monique Morris, and became even more convinced how vital it is to affirm black womanhood.
Blackgirlmagic is, in itself, the practice of resistance.
So, blackgirlmagic…for how short or long this moment is, will remain for a positive moment in which I too am reconnected with self-love. And, I am hoping that this is also true for so many other black women and girls all over the world.