The case of the carefree magical black girl


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The carefree, magical black girl is an enigma of sorts. It’s a composite of all the outstanding and beautiful things that make up black women. It’s also an acknowledgement of the obstacles and disadvantages that plague the lives of black women. It’s an inspiration. It’s a movement. It’s revolutionary. Except, when it’s not. The ideas of the “carefree black girl” and “black girl magic” have come under fire consistently since their creation. Opponents of these phrases criticize their superficiality and inability to express the complex life of the black woman. Proponents argue that the “carefree black girl” and “black girl magic” create spaces for black women to express themselves without being judged. The question then becomes: is the carefree, magical black girl bad for the black woman?

Before yay-ing or nay-ing these two phrases, it’s important to understand what they mean. “Carefree black girl” and “black girl magic” are fairly new to global conversation. As journalist Demetria Lucas D’oyley points out, there are no dictionary definitions to shed an unbiased (or extensively researched) light on their meaning. These phrases also can’t be easily broken down to their individual words to glean information. “Black girl magic,” for example, has very little to do with quidditch, the power of three, or Harry Houdini. However, it is easy to understand that these phrases are describing concepts. Conceptual terms, like feminism or patriotism, talk about ideas. Feminism is the idea that women should be treated equal to men. But the actual specifications on how that should happen vary. Truthfully, like feminism, the definitions of “carefree black girl” and “black girl magic” change depending on who you’re asking. These are phrases that were essentially created by a community of black women across the internet and each of them have their own ideas on what the phrases mean. Nonetheless, there are definitions that are commonly recited when discussing the carefree, magical black girl.

In an op-ed for The Baltimore Sun, Desiree Melton, associate professor at Notre Dame of Maryland University, describes “black girl magic” as the, “awesome ability black women have to hold our heads high in a world that wants us to hang them low.” D’oyley explains that it is a phrase of encouragement and acknowledgement between black women about their accomplishments. During her interview with Fusion, Cree Summer understood the phrase “carefree black girl” as an act of defiance. Through describing herself as carefree, the black woman attempts to reject the labels that mainstream media offers. These definitions make a strong case for the phrases’ proliferation in this social media age. Representation and inclusion are huge issues for black women across the globe. As mainstream media does everything it can to dehumanize and silence the complexities of black people, it has become more and more important to create positive portrayals of themselves by themselves.

However, there are some who question whether or not these phrases are really as inspiring and helpful as they are said to be. In January, Dr. Linda Chavers, assistant professor at Temple University, took to Elle magazine to denounce the use the phrase “black girl magic.” In her opinion, calling black women magical denies them their humanity.  She compares it to the “strong black woman,” a stereotype that contends that black women don’t need the help or care of others; that they are better off alone. The “strong black woman” is a positive stereotype that, ironically, has more than its fair share of negative consequences. According to Alexander Czopp, associate professor of psychology at Western Washington University, positive stereotypes, “[limit] the ability to individualize the targets of the stereotype.” Indeed, there are many different types of black women who feel pressured to look or act a certain way in an attempt to be seen as magical or carefree. There are also many women who feel left out of the spaces that were supposedly created to celebrate them. A perfect example is Beyoncé’s Lemonade. The album/movie combo was hailed as a work completely dedicated to showcasing and uplifting the trials and eventual triumph of black women. But many people pointed out that the greatest declaration of love to black women in recent history had no space for fat and trans black women. Beyoncé’s album is not alone in this criticism, it is a reflection of a large majority of the spaces built for black women and girls that ignore black women who are fat or trans and aren’t traditionally pretty.

Like the “strong black woman” stereotype, “black girl magic” is sometimes seen as perpetuating the idea that black women need to be extraordinary to be magical. Representatives for “black girl magic” are women like Serena and Venus Williams, Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas or Michelle Obama. These are people who fit the “twice as good” description for success as black women in America.”Black girl magic” is regularly defined as a celebration between black women when one of their own succeeds in a world that prefers for them to fail. With this definition, what are the black women who aren’t succeeding classified as? Antwan Herron, writer for Wear Your Voice magazine, says that in order for “black girl magic” to be a sincere space for black women in society, it must accept the black women who find themselves less than twice as good.

The phrase “carefree black girl” receives similar criticism from people who believe that only certain types of black women are perceived and uplifted as carefree. However, the biggest reason some black women refuse to identify with the phrase is because, these days, being carefree is a luxury most cannot afford. While understanding the “carefree black girl” as an attempt by black women to create their own labels, Cree Summer deems it as unrealistic. Writer Shamira Ibrahim feels that the phrase can be pressuring. That, because being carefree is statistically unlikely for most black women around the world, pretending that one is carefree is deceptive. Ibrahim also calls out the idea that afro-alternative styles, flower crowns, and septum piercings automatically classify someone as a “carefree black girl.” She calls it a “lazy, catch-all term”  that is insufficient to describe the styles and attitudes that black women embrace.

Ultimately, there is no right answer for how to interpret these phrases. Because the “carefree black girl” and “black girl magic” mean so many different things to so many people, it’s impossible to determine whether they are 100% good or bad. What is certain is that conversations about the representation, inspiration, and identity of black womanhood need to happen and happen frequently. Historically, black women have not been given the chance to search and find themselves, having to accept and embrace what other people believed about them. However, these days, those assumptions by outsiders are more easily picked apart and cast aside. With the “carefree black girl,” “black girl magic,” and this returning era of being unapologetically black, black women are deciding for themselves who they want to be. And that, at the very least, is magical.

By Lilian Uzokwe

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