For those who are viewers of the BET series, “Being Mary Jane” you may have seen a recent episode where Gabrielle Union who plays the main character, Mary Jane Paul a cable news host, has a panel of cultural critics. These critics are real life Cultural Studies Professor, Mark Anthony Neal, neo-soul artist, India Irie, and writer and image stylist, Michaela Angela Davis. The topic of discussion is an article that appeared in Psychology Today a while ago that declared that Black women were “scientifically” ugly. Please note, the reaction to the article was so vehement that the magazine decided to remove it. The TV show focused not just on the article but, on the failure of Black men to come to the defense of Black women. One by one the panelists talked about how Black women were always ready to have Black men’s backs but these actions were not reciprocated. Black women had no trouble taking up the causes of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Jr., Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice. But, where were Black men when Rekia Boyd was gunned down? Where were they when Melissa Alexander was being held in prison for firing a warning shot in the air to ward off an abusive husband? Near the end of the conversation Michaela Angela Davis remarked, Black women are magical—they come in an infinite number of shades; they rock the world’s most versatile hair that they can wear straight or curly with the addition of water; they can invert beauty standards by insisting that big lips and big butts are desirable. However, I think that being a magical Black woman is exhausting. Just think about all the ways we are expected to be magical:
We are magical money managers: Black women can take minimum wage salaries and stretch them further than anyone else I’ve ever known. When I was growing up my mother and her sisters could pass one ten dollar bill around 5 or 6 times to ensure that everyone got their needs met. Indeed, my mother sent me off to college with enough money for ONE semester. She encouraged me to use my magical Black powers to figure out how to finance the rest of my college career. A visit to the registrar’s office helped me see what I needed to earn a scholarship and a financial aid package to cover my expenses. From that moment I realized landing on the Dean’s List was not only an honorific—it was a necessity. My mother never had to pay another semester’s tuition.
We are magical food preparers: Again, as a child I can remember believing there was nothing to eat in the house and seeing my mother come home with no groceries. However, within 30 minutes there would be a delicious home cooked meal on the table. One of my aunts was “on relief” (today we refer to this as welfare) and received government surplus (e.g. cheese, butter, flour, peanut butter, dry beans, etc.). She was a fabulous cook (especially of baked goods). She would make a pot full of navy beans with a tiny, bit of meat (actually a ham bone, or neck bone) and bake Parker House rolls served hot with butter. My mouth still salivates when I think about those beans and rolls meals. This same aunt rarely gave store bought gifts for Christmas or birthdays. She always baked your favorite—a 4-layer coconut cake, a sweet potato pie, a lemon meringue pie, or chocolate layer cake—and it was magical! Just go to a Black funeral repast and see the magical food offerings that Black women prepare.
We are magical style-setters: Black women go into their closets and come out with looks that few designers could imagine. We pair all kinds of textures, patterns, and styles and rock them with confidence. We are rarely limited by what fashion magazines or apparel stores say we should wear. We ignore notions about bright colors or what direction the stripe is supposed to go. We do this because we don’t get style from the garments; we infuse our garments with our style confidence and that’s what turns heads. That’s why a character like Taraji P. Henson’s, “Cookie” intrigues us. She is over the top with 80s animal prints and still catches the attention of everybody in the room—male and female.
We are magical mothers: I don’t care how much you mess up, Black mothers are going to be there. Now of course she may knock you upside your head somewhere along the line (my favorite is being mad enough to throw a shoe at you) but when everyone else has left you a Black mother is going still be there. This is probably why I insist that Jesus must have been Black because his mother stood right there at the cross when everybody else had fled. Black mothers show up in the principal’s office, the police station, the hospital, and the courtroom. Black mothers do not believe in “wait til your daddy gets home!” Black mothers are going to handle the business right then and there. Even when a Black mother can’t do something, when she says, “Remember, I love you,” that’s a sentence you can bank on. Her failure to do what you want is either because she actually cannot or because she does not believe it is in your best interest. Watch major college sporting events and see how many magical Black mothers are in the stands whether they understand the sport or not!
We are magical partners: Yes, I have heard all the negative comments about how Black women are too hard on their partners. I have heard how they won’t cut them enough slack or excuse certain behaviors. But, magical Black women are looking for magical Black partners. We are not looking for partners we have to raise. We have children for that. We are not looking for partners to take care of or to take care of us. We are actually looking for PARTNERS…people who share our goals and dreams and are willing to work TOGETHER to make them realities. We are looking for partners who step up when we can’t and who will allow us to step up when they can’t. We are looking for loyalty, fidelity, and love. We are looking for magical partners that compliment (not supplement) or overshadow our magic. We want to shine alongside of our partners.
A few days after seeing the “Being Mary Jane” episode I watched the BET “Black Girls Rock” Awards Show. In addition to all of the magical Black women on that show—from teenaged girls to our First Lady Michelle Obama to our elder Cicely Tyson—I was struck by the magic of Hollywood power couple, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith. Their magic was not about their fame or riches. It was about the way they allow space for each other to be magical.
While American film and literature is filled with the trope of the “Magical Negro” (e.g. in depictions such as Whoopi Goldberg in “Ghosts,” Will Smith in “The Legend of Bagger Vance,” or even Kerry Washington in “Scandal.”) the magic that matters to me is the magic we display in the face of relentless racism. We keep doing what we need to do and we do it in the most magical of ways.
Stay Black & Smart!