Here Are My Problems With Linda Chavers

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

My tolerance for bullshit is pathologically low, especially on evenings when my edikang ikong stew is delivered two hours late…with meat as opposed to shellfish. So imagine how little it amused me to have just read Linda Chavers’ thinkpiece in ELLE, Here’s My Problem With #BlackGirlMagic.    

This amused. I was this amused.

I’ll try to put my state of hangriness aside and respond to this with some sensitivity. 

I can understand how, as a person with Multiple Sclerosis, Linda Chavers might feel enervated at times; perhaps even all the time. This is ok. Her disenchantment, her listlessness, and her feeling like an outsider are all valid personal responses to #BlackGirlMagic. Further, not participating in #BlackGirlMagic remains well within her prerogative and I am not writing to assert otherwise.

However her claim that the hashtag functions in the same way as the Strong Black Woman trope strikes me as obtuse. The latter is a long-established tool of oppression created by racists to deny Black women the full range of their human emotion. It permeates almost every aspect of society. #BlackGirlMagic was started by CaShawn Thompson in 2014, for us and by us in celebration of the beauty, intelligence and power of Black women everywhere. It has barely left Black Twitter. The two  are not the slightest bit similar. A simple investigation into who started #BlackGirlMagic, why, and what its scope is, would have clarified all of the above for Chavers. 

I keep wanting to ignore these all-too-common ‘oversights’ by Black people who take up platforms to speak on Blacknesses, to increasingly White audiences. But must such people be so publicly ignorant?

Do writers no longer research their subject matter? What manner of hubris causes a PhD level, Harvard academic to forego her training and write for a national publication on a subject she has not researched? Or is it a disdain for the subject, rather? Why is one woman writing what is essentially an under-informed and self-absorbed apology for the joy of a multitude of Black women…on a platform as White and as dubious as ELLE? DOES SHE NOT HAVE A JOURNAL? How well does the magazine pay? Are they looking for another PWI educated, self-absorbed, and wordy Black girl (me) or is their diversity quota filled? (I would obviously write better material, come on.)

Dr Chavers, I need answers. But in the meantime, allow me to further explore my problems with your thinkpiece.

Much of the thinkpiece’s criticisms are reminiscent of the thoughts many of us have shared on the ‘Carefree Black Girl’ movement. Yet #BlackGirlMagic has been free from the respectability politics and the aversion to complexity that plagues 'Carefree Black Girl.' Together, the hashtag and merchandise has been a tool for self-celebration, sharing joy, and affirming one another - particularly so for young Black girls. Why would you ever attack or attempt to discredit this? Let us be clear, in touting the traumas of Black women as some kind of natural consequence of avowing our magic, attacking the joy of those who do identify with #BlackGirlMagic is exactly what you are doing – in the most vicious way. It also blames us for the brutalisation of other Black women and treats the Brutalised as expendable. Linda, could you not do that?

The claim that ‘magic’ evokes the supernatural and therefore has a dehumanising function makes me wonder if Chavers has ever engaged any Black literature on magic. HELLO? Ifá and Santería priestesses, for example, are widely accepted as magical and very much human at once. Our magic isn't so much about the Uncanny as it is about holding fast to the things about us that others do not see. Our self-acceptance. Our happiness. Our friendship. Our sisterhood. Our personal achievements. Our beauty. Our talent. Our thought. Our scholarship. Our joie de vivre. To take a puritanical understanding of magic - one that likens it to evil and with a strict binary, divorces it from humanity – and then project it onto the activity of Black women is antagonising. Linda, please leave fellow Black women alone.

I’m annoyed by the insinuation that Black women exist as ‘magic’ in the imaginations of White abusers and racists such as Daniel Holtzclaw, Brian Encinia, and Theodore Wafer. It’s disingenuous. It stinks, Linda. And we are not responsible for whatever imaginations abusers and racists have.

At first, your motivations seemed innocuous – I thought I was about to read on what it is like to have a Chronic Illness as a Black woman in the USA. But your piece went far beyond the scope of personal meditation. You disparaged and undermined the stewardship and creative contributions of wonderful people. You wrote in a progressively sinister and violent manner that makes it easy to believe you do in fact have a disdain for your subject, Black women on social media. All of this may have been transcended if you had simply recognised the subjectivity of your own experience and done your research. Frankly, your degree of self-absorption is mind-numbingly boring.

I have tried not to be harsh here, but if I have been it is because I am fiercely protective of fellow Black women: our self-image, our self-care, our fellowship, and our joy. I was once a little girl who needed #BlackGirlMagic at a time when words to its effect did not exist. I know that there are still Black women and girls for whom #BlackGirlMagic is inspiriting. It does not mean that we are superhuman, in denial of more painful realities, or without complexity. CaShawn Thompson chose ‘magic’ “because it’s something that people don’t always understand…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.”

I think all of us can understand and appreciate that, even if we choose not to or feel unable to participate in the public affirmation, #BlackGirlMagic. We do not need to make apologies, or explain ourselves to anyone who is committed to misunderstanding us.


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  1. Have I been too harsh on Linda Chavers? How do you feel about #BlackGirlMagic? Comment with your thoughts below!

    Esmé Xo


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