By: Zoe Lewis, Program Coordinator, YWCA Greater Flint
The black woman’s experience in America provides arguably the most overwhelming evidence of the persistent gender and race discrimination issues faced. From the workplace, to the media, education, and politics, existing as a black person in society is an extreme sport. And black women as a double minority, are facing both gender and race inequality still today.
Growing up as a black woman, I remember wondering why there were little to no women who looked like me in my favorite movies, books, and TV shows. Famous black women were always put into this stereotypical box by eurocentric beauty standards and society. Black people were only successful in rap or R&B, but if a black woman were to sing pop or a black man were to sing country, they would be one out of the rest and put under a microscope of bias and judgement.
All my role models around me and in the media were white. And while they were good role models, I and the millions of other black women could never relate fully to them. I was looking up to women who didn’t represent me; they never experienced many of the struggles I faced, nor would they ever.
I loathed having to deal with my thick, frizzy, curly hair that I would straighten it with a flat iron every single day. I would wake up three or four hours earlier just to make myself feel comfortable with how I looked because I wouldn’t want to stand out in public with a big, curly Afro among those with straight, smooth, and tamed hair like the majority of my peers. I loathed my bigger lips, putting it as a trait I listed under “things I didn’t like”.
Nowadays I giggle at the trend of lip fillers and getting your lips surgically done bigger, all while my natural big lips were something I used to wish I didn't have. I wouldn’t wear certain clothing or hair styles in fear of being seen as “ghetto”, just because I was a shy girl who didn’t want any more attention on her. Unfortunately in society, the color of your skin attracts certain kinds of attention whether we can control it or not. I shrunk myself into a world in which whiteness, and all of its traits, were valued more and being black was a burden.
African American and black culture in recent years has been getting its recognition and credit, and black people all over the world are coming together to change the state of racism ingrained in our society, particularly through the media.
Black women are trendsetters and have always played a vital role in influencing our culture, but haven’t gotten full credit for their contributions until recently. The term #BlackGirlMagic was introduced by the media, and has been universally understood and used by many. Black Girl Magic is defined as “celebrating the beauty, power, and resilience of black women”, as described by Julee Wilson from HuffPost.
It started as a social media hashtag to rally black women to share their photos, videos, ideas, creations, or anything deemed as inspiring and cool. Black Girl Magic was originally created by CaShawn Thompson in 2013. “I say ‘magic’ because it’s something that people don’t always understand,” Thompson has said. She explained further, “sometimes our accomplishments might seem to come out of thin air, because a lot of times, the only people supporting us are other black women.” The main purpose of this movement is to create a platform where women of color can stand together against “the stereotyping, colorism, misogynoir and racism that is often their lived experience.” The term has also become an illustration of black women’s unique place of power at the intersection of commerce and culture. #BlackGirlMagic showcases empowered black women who uplift each other and help to recognize the accomplishments of black women everywhere.
Black women’s unique challenges are often ignored or not brought to light at all. Too often, the public has focused primarily on the experiences of white women as opposed to those of black women and other women of color. That is why the rise of black female representation is so significant, and why movements such as Black Girl Magic are so powerful.
The trend of Black Girl Magic and other displays of black women empowerment are so important for representation for so many women around the world. Misty Copeland, an American ballet dancer, said on the topic of #BlackGirlMagic, “I think it couldn’t be more positive for a young black girl to see that it’s okay to be yourself, it’s okay to not have to transform and look like what you may see on the cover of a lot of magazines. That you are beautiful, that it’s possible to succeed in any field that you want to, looking the way that you do. With your hair the way it is.”
Representation matters. Black children know what it feels like to turn on the TV and only see people who look like them play criminals and gangsters, not the doctors and heroes. Black people know what it's like to feel like an outsider in the place they call home. It is about time that black people as well as all people of color are represented equally and recognized for their contributions, while also being credited for inspiring many of the trends today.
Today I think of the young girl I was who thought less of herself for the color of her skin, and wish I could give her the empowerment and confidence that I have now. Today, I am proud to be a black woman. Our representation is growing greater as each day passes. Movies are casted with more black actresses. Makeup brands are releasing a greater range of shades for those who have darker skin tones. The beauty and fashion industry have started to accommodate to black women more and more by hiring black people, who can then collaborate and represent, creating safe spaces for people of color to be comfortable. The short film “Hair Love”, written by a black man about the story of a little black girl and her dad who attempts to do his daughters hair for the first time, helped to fight discrimination against natural black hair. The short film won an Oscar. Brands and companies are realizing the importance of representation and are beginning to show it too.