Although the hashtag BlackGirlMagic has only been in use since early 2014, the magic it describes is not new. From Rebecca Lee Crumpler, who was born in the era of slavery, but was nonetheless the first African-American woman to become a physician in the United States, all the way to Amandla Stenberg, the multiethnic, non-binary bisexual who played Rue in The Hunger Games and Macey Irving on Sleepy Hollow, and who co-wrote the comic Niobe: She Is Life (all while still in high school), black women have defied societal expectations and persevered despite adversity.
Amandla Stenberg on Instagram in a hoodie designed by CaShawn Thompson
The creator of the hashtag is blogger and social media maven CaShawn Thompson who says "I started #BlackGirlsAreMagic to honor the black women in my family and all around me that I saw doing incredible things, so much so that they appeared to be magical to me." But as with any creative expression, the hashtag has been subject to critique. In her essay Here's My Problem with #BlackGirlMagic, Dr. Linda Chavers, an African-American scholar living with disability, critiques the entire idea: "Saying we're superhuman is just as bad as saying we're animals, because it implies that we are organically different, that we don't feel just as much as any other human being." In her response to Dr. Chavers, writer Ashley Ford casts a counter-spell: "Magic is about knowing something that others don't know or refuse to see. When a black woman is successful, and the world refuses to see her blood, sweat, and tears behind the win, what does it look like? Magic."
We can see that magic — and have seen it, whether we realized it or not — in the achievements of astronaut Mae Jemison, the ballet dancer Misty Copeland, the comics artist Afua Richardson. And of course, we can see it in our fictional characters! Geeks OUT members Nicole Gitau, Niala Terrell-Mason, and Joshua Barnaby describe some of their favorites from fiction who embody the real-life spirit of Black Girl Magic.
In her last novel, Fledgling, Octavia Butler tells the story of Shori, a 53 year-old vampire-hybrid with the appearance of a 10 year-old black girl. Despite her fantastical origins, Shori was always a powerful figure for me in real life. She's strong enough to survive near-fatal attacks on her own, but vulnerable enough to let herself intimately pair with and be healed by other people. She is disconnected from her family by trauma, but creates a chosen family with a man and woman. She's often dismissed because of her perceived youth and her color, but she fiercely rejects attempts by old white dudes to silence her, knowing they have literally constructed those categories of identity. Plus, she'll tear your throat out if you threaten her squad.
M / Monet St. Croix (X-Men)
A French Algerian mutant with a multitude of superhuman abilities: superhuman strength, speed, agility, vision and hearing, invulnerability, accelerated healing, self propelled flight, genius level intellect, telepathy and telekinesis. With the combination of her superhuman physique, intelligence and beauty, M owns the moniker of the "perfect" mutant with pride and style. She is a former member of Generation X, X-Factor Investigations, and Storm's all female X-Men. M is the first member of any X team who identifies as a Muslim, and is currently on Magneto's Uncanny X-Men. Monet is aware that her attitude and family’s wealth have given her teammates throughout the years a specific perception of her as someone who is "Strong, overwhelming, better than everyone else…" And has gone on to explain that her persona as M is where she pulls her strength. In the face of adversity and complicated (and sometimes tragic) family ties, she draws strength from herself and who she chooses to be. M's Black Girl Magic is her innate and natural ability to be Black Excellence at its best while owning who she is!
Martha Jones (Doctor Who)
Martha Jones epitomizes the spirit of Black Girl Magic. First of all, right out the TARDIS she was asking the real questions. Like, is time traveling with a crazy white man going to get her sold into slavery? The Doctor tells her to do what he does: "Just walk about like you own the place — works for me." Hello, clueless imperialistic white male privilege! This is only the beginning of all the white nonsense Martha will have to deal with. Martha is different from the other companions, in that unlike Rose, Donna, or Amy, Martha isn't looking to be rescued from her life. She's looking for adventure, not for a savior. Martha is a highly educated woman with a great family, a great job, and a great life. Martha often reminds the Doctor that she's a doctor, too. She sees herself as an equal. Martha also has to put up with shit the white companions didn't. Like in the episode "Human Nature" (season 3, episode 8), when Martha has to work as a maid in a school full of racist white people — including the Doctor, who has no idea who he is at the time. In one of the best take downs in the entire series, Martha finally has enough, and puts the insufferable nurse in her place by revealing her vastly superior education and status. She gave ALL black people life in that moment. Later, at the end of season 3, Martha saves the entire world by becoming The Woman Who Walked the Earth, a hero and a legend to all of humanity during one year that never was. And, maybe bravest of all, Martha Jones is the only companion who willingly walked away from the Doctor because she deserved better.
Vixen / Mari Jiwe McCabe (DC Comics)
Originally from Zambesi, Africa, Vixen is able to channel the powers of every creature in the animal kingdom through the aid of the magical Tantu Totem said to give the wearer the powers of Anansi (the West African folkloric figure). Vixen can take on the speed of a cheetah, the strength of an elephant, the flight of an eagle, the durability of a rhinoceros, the venom of a snake, and any natural ability of any animal she can think of. Mari is a career woman who has worked as a successful model and as a fashion designer. As Vixen, she has been a member of multiple Justice League teams, the Birds of Prey, and the Suicide Squad. Vixen's reputation as a heroine has earned her the trust and admiration of most heroes in the DC universe. Huntress admitted to Vixen that while with the Justice League, the whole team talked about Vixen like she was something special. Batman even described Vixen as having a "rare elegance and grace." When Vixen wasn't in possession of her Totem and thought to be cut off from her powers, she displayed an inner strength along with tenacity, courage and a connection to both her cultural heritage and the natural that showed that within her there is a magic and confidence to not just take down a lion, but also to defeat a powerful enemy with technological enhancements.
Anastasia Dualla (Battlestar Galactica)
As Battlestar's Official Second Fiddle™, Dee was an emblem of the "work twice as hard, for half as much" black girl struggle. On the CIC, she was just a go-between for crew and command. Off duty, she settled for President Roslin's number two. But of course, she forever played number two to Apollo's Starbuck. But still, she shined. I saw her when she left behind the dogmatic religion of the Sagittarons, but still maintained a strong sense of justice and compassion. I admired her for climbing the ranks from Petty Officer to Lieutenant (and maybe getting her hands dirty rigging an election, in the process). And I loved her most when she struggled to keep herself and her marriage together. Amidst all the Cylons, she was achingly human, and she proved that black girls don't have to be impossibly strong to be beautiful.
Of course, there are other characters who personify the idea behind this hashtag. But keep your eyes open for beautiful, powerful, resilient black women in the real world, performing what only seems like magic, every day.