FAITH NGUYEN, My Blood Bleed Gold, Film & Animation. Grade 11, North Allegheny Senior High School, Wexford, PA.

 

The Civic Expression Award, sponsored by the Maurice R. Robinson Fund, recognizes six teenagers whose artistic and literary works promote responsible civic life. Through critical essays, sculpture, film, and future new art, the students who received the 2020 Civic Expression Award show an awareness of the issues affecting their communities. Their exploration of these issues and the history surrounding them, as well as their recognition of their civic responsibility to find solutions in respectful and innovative ways, earned them this prestigious award, which includes a $1,000 scholarship for each student.

 

The 2020 Civic Expression Awardees are:

Olivia Bigtree, Camryn Dixon, Kathryn Hart, Jeffery Keys, Faith Nguyen, and Tiffany Onyeiwu

 

The Role of Black Girl Magic in Intersectional America

TIFFANY ONYEIWU, Critical Essay. Grade 11, Meadville Senior High School, Meadville, PA.

Black women are the single most disenfranchised beings in the United States. Historically, the effects of discrimination against Black women manifested disdainful stereotypes in society. This illustrated a counterfactual narrative of Black females. Black women took upon themselves a commitment to alter these misconceptions for their counterparts, which had the additional effect of altering the cultural atmosphere of the nation. The duality of race and sex further limit Black women in society. Although necessary, it becomes difficult to maneuver life through these enigmas. The instrumentality of tools to solve such problems is imperative to the successful integration of Black women into society. The social movement of Black Girl Magic is one mechanism used to combat these issues. Black Girl Magic in its sincerest form is essential to navigating the systemic inequities of social and political hegemon of intersectional society.

Systemic inequities blatantly disadvantage Black women. In the context of inequity, systemic refers to inconspicuous issues,  institutionalized disparities in society’s workings. Systemic barriers prevent equality from being enough because it awards varying degrees of privilege. The Black woman is barred from America’s public and private institutions (e.g. segregated schooling, restaurants) and denied basic rights granted to all other citizens (e.g. voting) not only because of her race but also sex. Equity focuses upon the belief that equality is inadequate especially in the case of minorities. It is necessary for more marginalized groups of people to receive additional support. Considering the beginnings of members of minority groups is an important element of Equity. The general varying differences in the environments of people due to privilege necessitates varying differences of aid. Equity is “[all indivuals] getting what they need to survive or succeed—access to opportunity, networks, resources, and supports—based on where [they] are and where [they] want to go” (Putman-Walkerly). “Striving for the equality of women across all fields has its drawbacks. It fundamentally leaves no room for issues which are particular to [some] women” (Abdul-Kareem). For example, the needs of White women to survive in society will ultimately differ because the Black woman deals with the additional effects of racism on top of sexism and the White woman does not. Discrimination due to systemic inequity has hampered Black women from societal progressions.

Intersectionality “shows how people who are categorized in two or more ways can experience these things together rather than separating these experiences from one another superficially” (Mayblin). In the 1970s, Kimberlé Crenshaw, now Columbia Law Professor, was inspired to illustrate the means of oppression, for persons of more than one identity by the 1976 DeGraffenreid et al., v. General Motors case. Emma DeGraffenreid filed suit against General Motors because she believed she was not hired due to being a Black woman. The case was dismissed because the manufacturing plant did hire Black Americans, all men usually for industrial/maintenance work, and women, all white and for secretarial work, but not Black women (Crenshaw). The “court’s decision … stated that plaintiffs “should not be allowed to combine statutory remedies to create a new ‘super-remedy’ which would give them relief beyond what the drafters of the relevant statutes intended” (Gonzalez). This decision suggests that it was unfair to DeGraffenreid to use cite two forms of discrimination, her Blackness, and female sex, in her claims though necessary to tell her story. The court recognized doing so would, therefore, be “preferential” and consequently, she would have “advantages”, to Black men and White women with only one claim. “But neither African-American men nor white women needed to combine a race and gender discrimination claim to tell the story of the discrimination they were experiencing” (Crenshaw). Crenshaw coined the term intersectionality to frame issues like the ones DeGraffenreid faced. The simple analogous of an intersection came to Crenshaw when she thought about the complex situations alike that of DeGraffenreid’s. “…The roads to the intersection would be the way that the workforce was structured by race and gender. The traffic would be the hiring policies. Now, because Emma was both black and female, she was positioned precisely where those roads overlapped, experiencing the simultaneous impact of the company’s gender and race traffic. The law is the ambulance that shows up and is ready to treat Emma only if… she was harmed on the race road or on the gender road, not where those roads intersected” (Crenshaw). Intersectionality highlights the forms of oppression by marginalized people everywhere and influenced the United States legal system to view them appropriately as such.

The movement began as #BlackGirlMagic, responding to negative portrayals of Black women in the media. In 2013, CaShawn Thompson became aware of various outlets releasing misinformation about Black women (Flake). Thompson expressed, “At the time that I put the hashtag online there was this deluge of negative press about black women. An article in Psychology Today about [Black women] being the least physically attractive people on the planet, … on another platform about [Black women] having STDs, … something about [Black women] not being marriageable; all this negative propaganda…” (Flake). This cycle of perpetuated lies was not only furthest from the truth of the real experiences Thompson shared with her contemporaries, but also the opposite sentiments of many in the Black community. CaShawn raised around Black women, and from a young age envisioned the essence of their womanhood as magical. CaShawn took responsibility in transforming the misconstrued perceptions of Black women into the authenticity she witnessed, which seemed only fit to be described as, magic. Images of Black girls’ celebrations of their lives, beauty and success flooded social media platforms. A simple hashtag on social media exploded into an international social movement helping to affirm Black beauty and self-worth, concurrently diminishing the continuation of derogatory stereotypes.

Dr. Linda Chavers published an article through ELLE Magazine in opposition to #BlackGirlMagic on the premise of “Black girls aren’t magical. We’re human.” “Black girls aren’t magic. We’re human” is factually accurate but contextually degrades the real foundations of the movement. Chavers recognizes that Black women, humans, are merely anatomical twins of one another. She draws from personal experiences to explain that nothing feels magical about being a Black woman, it is just her reality. Chavers goes on to elaborate on new rhetoric that: the phrase “Black Girl Magic” reflects the “Strong Black Woman” archetype. Moreover, if Black women are addressed as superhuman they “organically” contrast from other humans. Likewise, Black women then possess the identical essence of being subhuman as well. The effects of the abhorrent nature of slavery which periled Black people superseded by the grueling struggle endured by African-Americans during the post-Reconstruction era created a climate of inherent racism and sexism toward African-American women (“Minority”). This intense history of treatment has trickled down into today’s modern society and still influences prevalent racial fractures. Ashley Ford stated in, There Is Nothing Wrong With Black Girl Magic, “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.” This quote by Ford epitomizes the essence of Black Girl Magic. Contrastingly to Dr. Chavers, Ford conceives the ideology the Black Girl Magic is not about being physically strong but instead grasps the magnitude monumental gains women of color, have made. Socially and politically Black women brazen societal expectations about themselves to an appropriate degree to describe these strides in excellence as magical. Ford essentializes the movement as “what [CaShawn] Thompson has given us, is something that encapsulates the grand and heartbreaking experience of being a black woman in this world. Thompson knew what she was doing, and she did it well. She helped us name the unique experience of living in this world as black women…”.

Conventional Feminism has failed Black women. Black Girl Magic gives credit to the sacrifices Black women have made despite historical impediments. The Suffragette Movement, in the respective United States, which bred the first instances of organized feminism was the result of the prudent successes of its leaders. The most recognized for such progressive strides were Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Their societal altering accomplishments are justified. However, the accomplishments of Black reformers and the racist undertone of which the Suffragette Movement was born and raised upon, must not go unnoticed. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton are White “classic liberal racists who embraced fairness in the abstract while publicly enunciating bigoted views” (Staples). A logical suffragist mindset would indeed promote the rights for women but as avid opposers of the 15th amendment, which granted African-American men the right to vote, but as classical liberal racists, Anthony and Stanton too spitefully condemned its consecration. Furthermore, this implicit behavior betrayed the Black woman’s sacrifices to the cause. These attitudes created discontinuity between the convictions of the necessity of suffrage. Brent Staples of the New York Times categorized the differences in suffrage like so, “it became clear after the Civil War that black and white women had different views of why the right to vote was essential. White women were seeking the vote as a symbol of parity with their husbands and brothers. Black women, most of whom lived in the South, were seeking the ballot for themselves and their men, as a means of empowering black communities besieged by the reign of racial terror that erupted after Emancipation. The two-faced nature of the Suffragists Movement leaders compromised its integrity. After the ratification of the 15th Amendment, racism grew in the time leading up to the 19th Amendment, which sought the voting rights of women. Southern White women used the era of Jim Crow as “an excuse for their discriminatory treatment of their black suffragist sisters” (Staples). After the ratification of the 19th Amendment, nicknamed the Anthony-Amendment, white suffragists nationwide became apathetic to the women who were left behind from casting their ballots. In 1920, “the former suffragists of the North were celebrating the amendment and were uninterested in fighting discrimination against women who were suffering racial, as opposed to gender, discrimination” (Staples). It was not until nearly have a century later that African-American women overcame “fraudulent and intimidating practices” when approaching the ballot box and were granted suffrage (Staples). The hypocritical episodes of White suffragists prompted the discontent many Black reformers including Ida B. Wells, Frederick Douglass, and Mary Church Terrell and served as further inspiration for the persistence Black Suffrage. Ida B. Wells is infamous for her contributions to the liberation front of African-American women. She was a staunch rejector of the accommodationism that was expected of Negro activists of the time (Staples). Frederick Douglass summarized the difference between the interests of Black and White suffragists as “When women, because they are women, are hunted down through the cities… ; when they are dragged from their houses and hung upon lampposts; when their children are torn from their arms and their brains dashed out upon the pavement; when they are objects of insult and outrage at every turn; when they are in danger of having their homes burnt down over their heads; when their children are not allowed to enter schools; then they will have an urgency to obtain the ballot equal to our own” (Staples). Mary Church Terrell, a prominent patron for the cause, joined Ida B. Wells in an anti-lynching crusade against African-Americans. She championed the “belief that blacks would help end racial discrimination by advancing themselves and other members of the race through education, work, and community activism” (Michals).

Social constructs ostracize the habitual Black woman. Black girls are told they are everything except enough. When colloquial verbiage is used outside of proximate communities, accusations of being too ghetto and ratchet present themselves. Vice versa when Black women assimilate through code-switching, they are accused of acting too White. “Code-switching between Standard English and [African-American Vernacular English] is… a skill learned out of necessity—not choice. Mainstream America refuses to accept AAVE (and other forms of Vernacular English) as a worthy form of communication” (Lewis). The Angry Black Woman stereotype rose when the legitimacy of Black women’s expressed frustrations from racially motivated sexism was questioned. “…But what of Harriet [Tubman]’s dream? She dreamed black women might flip, skip, saunter, cry, yell, rage, and have access to the full scope of the human emotional experience that was denied us for so long. She wanted [Black women] to live their lives, not merely survive them” (Ford). The emotional subjugation of Black women raised a false narrative of ill-temperateness. Being suitable to society is nearly synonymous with being disingenuous to being a Black woman. Black Girl Magic advocates for the dynamism of unapologetic auras of Black women. Black Girl Magic reclaims whitewashed Black culture and simultaneously rejects the subscription to Eurocentric standards of beauty. Traditional American society represses the appearance of natural Black bodies, while Black Girl Magic commends them. Celebrities stole braids directly from black hair, for trendiness (ELLE). Katy Perry who is known in American pop-culture to embrace eccentric fashion styles is an example of this (Virk). By using Black braids, specifically cornrows, in a chic custom to strengthen her image she appropriated Black hair rather than appreciated it. “Cornrow hairstyles … cover a wide social terrain: religion, kinship, status, age, ethnicity, and other attributes of identity that can all be expressed in hairstyle” (“Cornrows”). Black Girl Magic endorses the originality of Black hair. The variability of Black hair is openly expressed through the differences in the scalps it relayed onto and the platforms it exhibited with. Black Girl Magic acknowledges the freedom to not assimilate to the standard of beauty set by the west in Eurocentric European beauty standards. Fair-skinned and straight hair women are not the only type of beautiful women. Women with the darkest melanin and prevalent curl patterns in hair, are beautiful and of purpose and value. The hashtag has created a plethora of imagery of approbatory media. Furthermore, “digital spaces … are part of the glue that is holding [Black women] together, as we collectively maneuver through this moment that seems to desire to punish us as much as possible for simply being Black and woman” (Staff). The internet forced a genuine view of the Black woman her excellence. Accessible authenticity internationally connects global Black Girl Culture aesthetic and experience (Staff). The movement fosters a sense of interdependence and cultivates palatable reliance. Black women see themselves and are conscious of the diverse beings they are. This sets an example of limitless opportunity.

Once Black women realize their beauty and self-worth, which is undeterred by social constructs, a new door opens for power and the myriads of abilities it contains, for political progression, when placed it the respective hands of those who rightly exemplify the community. Black Girl Magic encourages the face of representation in an underrepresented political sphere. Black Girl Magic nourishes the prerogatives of Black women to pursue their own narratives. Avowing the aftermath of failed uses of power in leaders who culturally differed from them bases the substitution of resurrected political prowess to Black women. “Decisions, policies, and practices continue to obstruct the civic engagement of black women” (Carter). Voter roll purges in addition to the complex history of Black women and suffrage are demonstrations of the obstructions Black women face in politics in the United States as outlined by Carly Carter and Carol Lautier, Ph.D. in their article Taking Our Seat at the Table: Black Women Overcoming Social Exclusion in Politics. Additionally, because Black women are a minority, a common school of thought among elected officials is that: there is little to none to be politically gained by catering to their specific issues. 90% of elected officials are White. These representatives are historically less inclined to respond to the needs of nonwhite sectors in the community because “deeper relationships that establish trust and reciprocity are necessary to create an inclusive participatory democracy” (Carter). Likewise, Black women were impeded from participating in politics that control their lives. “Women won the right to vote when the 19th Amendment was ratified… but most black women could not exercise that right because of Jim Crow laws—buttressed by racist bureaucrats, police, and vigilantes—blocked [them] from full democratic participation until the 1960s. These experiences fostered distrust and diminished confidence in the role of government as a solution to community problems” (Carter). Black Girl Magic assists a solution to overcome these problems, which are not solved by the government, by forcing Black women into leadership roles where they are “responsive” to the needs of a marginalized community (Carter). Due to leadership failing to resonate with community, revelations of the impact of grasps of power have prompted participation in politics by Black women. Black Girl Magic highlights the importance of such participation and creates examples of the lasting effects of active political engagement has on the marginalized community. While also serving as a catalyst, Black Girl Magic strengthens the Republic by reforming democracy through truly placing the power in all of the people, specifically those who are often overlooked.

The authentic values of Black Girl Magic aim to maneuver the social and political constraints intersectional society presents to Black women. CaShawn Thompson articulated the emboldened sensation of Black women when she began the movement in 2013 as merely a hashtag on social media. The necessity of Black Girl Magic, from the historically systemic realities of regressive Black feminine perception, is conceivable. The movement has since transcended itself to become a successful mechanism for the empowerment of melanin. Black Girl Magic also illustrates the dynamism of Black femininity: despite social and political deterrents. As CaShawn Thompson herself remarked, “I need everybody to understand that the Black Girl Magic movement was created by a woman who didn’t finish college, and had babies young, and grinded in menial jobs for years. This movement is for every black woman–the ratchet girls, the hood girls, the trans[gender] girls, the differently-abled girls. Black Girl Magic is for all of us.” To profess the magic of Black women is to celebrate their exceptional essence.

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