#BlackGirlMagic: Why Black Women Have 'That Thing' And You Don't Have to Understand It

Photo by Dennis Leupold
Black girls just have that thing. It’s the sway in our hips, the way our melanin glows in the sun, how our coils grow upward, how we intuitively understand the difference between a “girl” and a “girrrrrrrl” response.

Black girls just have that thing. It’s the sway in our hips, the way our melanin glows in the sun, how our coils grow upward, how we intuitively understand the difference between a “girl” and a “girrrrrrrl” response, how we feel like a win for one is a win for all. It’s that shared connection between a group of women who have never met yet deeply understand the Black girl experience. That kinship is everything from having our hair pressed in the kitchen as little girls to having strangers reach in to touch our ‘fros as adults. It’s excelling and loving ourselves in a world that repeatedly tells us we aren’t good enough, aren’t pretty enough, aren’t smart enough. That triumph through it all is Black Girl Magic.

The online Black Girl Magic movement was popularized by CaShawn Thompson. It grew because it was something that affirmed us like Black Girls Rock before it. While we were celebrating a week of Black Girl Magic with ESSENCE’s very own #BlackGirlMagic Class of 2016 issue starring Teyonah Parris, Johnetta “Netta” Elzie and Yara Shahidi, a different magazine commissioned a Black female writer to throw cheap shade by declaring Black Girl Magic a problem. But what’s shade when you’re twirling in the sun? You see, the shear resistance toward Black women celebrating each other is why we will continue to do so. Not identifying with Black Girl Magic is a personal decision, one that is none of my business. It is, however, wholly unfair to purport that it’s wrong. Anytime young activists and actresses can grace the cover of a national magazine — that is the essence of magic.

Behind the Cover: Yara Shahidi on Tracee Ellis Ross, #BlackGirlMagic and Being Comfortable in Your Own Skin

When ESSENCE's entertainment director Cori Murray emailed me to see if I was available to write three covers for the February issue, I can only sum up the feeling as magical. She was entrusting me to tell these stories for what would be an iconic moment. During most interviews I have a little bit of nerves initially. With these three it was different. I felt like I already knew them. They were like me. That sort of familiarity is hopefully what made them comfortable enough to share their stories with me.

Behind the Cover: Teyonah Parris Talks #BlackGirlMagic and What it Means to Her

Survivor’s Remorse star Teyonah Parris was up first. It was early in the morning on a Friday. She had ordered room service for breakfast because she had a long day on set. For whatever reason room service kept calling to ask questions about her order. “It can’t be that hard,” she whispered as she apologized for the interruption. Later when we talked about how she hears “no” every day in Hollywood I knew exactly what she meant. I’m not sure if people realize how much rejection is involved in journalism. Her not booking a role or being told she can’t produce a project is my not getting an email back from editors on stories I’ve pitched. When she talked about keeping a girlfriend squad that she doesn’t have to compete with I felt it in my soul. Here we were, two Black girls living very different lives, but who understood and related to each other’s struggles and wanted everyone in our circles to win.

Behind the Cover: Johnetta 'Netta' Elzie Talks #BlackGirlMagic, Activism and Motivation

I didn’t know what to expect from Johnetta “Netta” Elzie. People with a larger than life presence online are sometimes very different in real life. Fortunately we had an instant connection. We talked the longest. Our conversation went from the movement to loneliness to hopes and dreams to finding love. Narrowing our conversation down to 500 words was such a hard task we ran the extended version online. The night before the cover reveal she texted me, “You ready, B?” It was a nod to Jay Z. We knew what it meant without saying a word.

My conversation with black-ish star Yara Shahidi left me in awe. Yes, I, a 30-year-old woman, was moved by a teenager. We talked about James Baldwin and it gave me life! Her intelligence on social and gender issues made me proud that a young girl like her is on TV for millions to see.

Seeing the full spread of three different kinds of Black girls all glammed up for the only magazine for Black women made me emotional. Seeing Netta, an everyday girl like me, grace the cover of ESSENCE, felt like we all had won. And that is Black Girl Magic. It can’t be denied. It won’t crumble in the face of naysayers. Our very existence is magic, and that’s worthy of celebration.

Bené Viera (@beneviera) is a multimedia journalist, writer and activist. She reports on race, gender and pop culture. She wrote ESSENCE's February cover story.

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