Atlanta’s new Mayor-elect Keisha Lance Bottoms gave a great victory speech after winning the runoff against opponent Mary Norwood. She repeated the catchphrase that has dominated social media for the last few years, #blackgirlmagic. “For all the little girls out there, who need somebody to believe that you’re better than your circumstances, I want you all to remember that Black girl magic is real,” Bottoms said. We cheered the mayor-elect on but I realized that in quoting the catchy phrase we may indeed be slighting the sheer genius and tenacity that resides within today’s Black woman.
According to Google, magic is defined as “the power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces.” This use of rhetoric is provocative but it’s a bit misleading. There is nothing mysterious about the years of work Lance Bottoms sacrificed serving on the Atlanta City Council and as executive director of the City of Atlanta and Fulton County Recreation Authority, or the years she spent as a top lawyer and judge. To suggest this accomplishment is “#blackgirlmagic may undermine the idea that blood, sweat and tears go into any ascent to the top. This is especially true for Black women. Being a walking double minority holds a signature burden of proof, making us a target for White privilege, on top of the oppressively obvious gender bias in the workplace, not to mention the innumerable intra-racial issues existing between Black women and men that often threaten to snuff out a Black woman’s hope for success.
Outside of Lance Bottoms we have used the term #blackgirlmagic to exemplify women like Issa Rae, who most recently nabbed a nomination for a Golden Globe; along with director supreme Ava Duvernay, who is directing a the highly anticipated remake of A Wrinkle in Time, which has the highest production budget granted a minority director, $103M; Beyoncé, who has taken the performer to a new level of excellence; and, of course, Oprah Winfrey, who has changed culture and lives by owning a network that celebrates Blackness and elevates the Black voice. For Issa Rae, Ava Duvernay, Simone Biles, Oprah, Beyoncé and a number of women we’ve slapped with the ubiquitous hashtag, it’s almost neglectful to deny there is something much more tangible at work than magic. Magic suggests that the brilliance, tenacity and beyond conscientious work ethic that supersedes each of the women named is just a mysterious coincidence. There is no magic involved in 18 hour days, no magic involved in working until you are so tired you’re about to pass out, no magic involved in showing up everyday in an industry that would prefer you accept the table scraps leftover from your “industry standard” colleagues, no magic involved in turning down the advances of would-be sexual encounters in exchange for a promotion, no magic involved in realizing your face and likeness are not welcome in the current business culture so you decide to create your own, no magic in turning your pretty pictures on a social media platform into a multimillion-dollar business. Magic is a term that suggests delusions of grandeur, and I believe I can confidently speak for all the women mentioned and the rest of us striving for greatness when I say we haven’t been given the luxury of magic since arriving on U.S. soil centuries ago.
Yes, my African American sisters are magic, but they are so much more. The women mentioned above and even those of us working in less high-profile positions are driven by a relentless internal motivator that will not allow us to give up. I personally know Black women who have lost everything, been deserted, abandoned and still rise to earn degrees, raise children responsibly, launch successful businesses, create life-changing brands and most importantly change the culture. To see a double minority changing the landscape of the culture so the generations of women coming behind her are privy to a more even playing field is beyond brave, it’s beyond an illusion, it’s so much more than a mysterious force, it’s so much more than magic.
Yes, I’ve used the term #blackgirlmagic because we’ve needed a way to verbalize the phenomenon, but like you, I’m aware that no successful story posted on Instagram comes without the sacrifice and most importantly without an unyielding commitment to excellence by any means necessary, and that combination is so much more than magic.