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What we mean by Black Girl Magic

Black women are not mythical. Nor superhuman. Our magic is in our realness, our love, and the way we rally around one another.

What we mean by Black Girl Magic
Black women are not mythical. Nor superhuman. Our magic is in our realness, our love, and the way we rally around one another. (Created and produced by Jeneé Osterheldt/Globe Staff, Directed and edited by Katherine Otuechere, First Assistant Directors Chaney Carlson-Bullock and Daymian Mejia, Supervising Producer Caitlin Healy/Globe Staff, Illustrations by Paula Champagne, Photos by Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff, Katherine Otuechere/Special to the Globe, Ally Schmaling/Handout)

When I see a Black woman, I see a revolution.

She’s here. In a country determined to rest its back on her shoulders while calling her worthless, I see magic. I do not see a superhuman. I see an architect. I know she’s doing a lot of groundwork to be present, to walk that walk with swagger and self-determination. I know she is becoming more and more herself, building the truth in a world that lies to us about who we are.

To be both Black and woman is to wake up every day in your body, where you are policed by your skin, by your gender, by your existence. We pay for it in pain. I see the extraordinary in our mere presence because even at our best we are debased. Loving yourself is the protest.

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So when I see Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka holding space for their healing, I hope it’s contagious. I pray the courage to say we are more than brave and strong and angry and we need rest and joy and love catches on.

Oompa's new album, "Unbothered," is a Black woman's affirmation and joy.Ally Schmaling

“Being a Black girl is a miraculous feat,” says Oompa, a Boston rapper, poet, and educator. “It is a beautiful thing to be alive and Black and woman anywhere. And I think in a city like Boston where it is particularly hard to be any one of those things individually, it is amazing to be a part of a community of Black women who have survived.”

Survival. We are more likely to be killed at almost three times the rate of white women, yet when we are missing or murdered, headlines do not call for our safety. We are more likely to die giving birth. Black girls are the most suspended of any student group in our nation. Suspended for asking questions, sending messages, for the way they wear their hair, and how they dress. Even at work, we navigate antiblackness and sexism: misogynoir.

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We war with the world to live.

“What gives me joy is I think I’m a byproduct of my mother’s efforts and then her mother’s efforts and like all these other Black women doing what they could do to make sure I got here,” Oompa says.

Unbothered,” her latest album, is an introspective look at finding your footing despite the foolery.

“When you see me, you know I’m Black. And then there’s a lot of questions: ‘Are you a boy or a girl?’ I used to like be really afraid of my femininity,” she says. “I used to be afraid that soft was weak, that femme was weak, and I think those are messages I internalized. I think the world doesn’t want us to exist. I think we’re beautiful because we’re a living embodiment of knowing we can be everything and nothing at the same time. We have to always know the chessboard, the pieces we’re playing with, and who it is we want to show up as.”

Sofi Madison, owner of Olives & Grace, says Black Girl Magic is a celebration and reminder of space to hold.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Not everyone readily recognizes Sofi Madison as Black. Except her daddy. To him, she has always been Black like him. You can be biracial, have a white parent, and still be Black. Identity is complex and Blackness expands beyond complexion.

“I remember being in Toys ‘R’ Us with my dad, and my brother and I were picking out toys. I picked out a Cabbage Patch doll with brown hair and tan, olive skin. My dad picked out a Black Cabbage Patch doll. He wanted to make sure I could see the deep, dark skin of my ancestors, me, in the doll I carry. I remember being very awake in that moment,” she told me recently.

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She grew up in Weston, where there weren’t a lot of people of color. Her mom took her to jazz shows in New York, exposing her to Black artists and Black culture. She wanted her children to understand the influence of Black people on the world.

Her aunties in Chicago were her earliest examples of Black women. The smell of cocoa butter and confidence, the mac and cheese in the oven, the sounds of Whitney Houston and Nancy Wilson playing over the speakers.

“Black Girl Magic to me is celebrating this uncontrollable, relentless, beautiful joy that exists despite any obstacles,” says Madison, owner of Olives & Grace, a South End makers boutique. “I think it’s sort of a contrast between having the freedom to just be this beautiful being and also this work it takes to continuously push yourself to hold space for that.”

"Black women are just magic. You see it and you like it? A Black woman did that." - Kinesha Goldson, model and creative director Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Making room to be who you are is a life skill. Black girls and women have to learn to combat the narratives assigned to us. Especially for a dark-skinned Black girl. Being yourself, authentically and without apology, is work. Kinesha Goldson works it.

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Even as a little girl, her big sister Max — who has fair skin and green eyes — was preparing her for the outside world as a child who was Jamaican and Bostonian and Black and girl. Every morning Goldson was told the deep dark brilliance of her Black skin was beautiful.

“Growing up, I would be super insecure. I’m not fair-skinned with curly hair. I have really high cheekbones. People would say I have more of a masculine face structure. I’m androgynous. And I thought this is the face that I have, so I’m going to look the best I can and be as comfortable as I am in my own body, because I literally have no other option.”

In 2015, she competed in Miss Universe Jamaica. She tried more than once to sign with a popular modeling agency but was rejected. Goldson started modeling on her own. And as a creative director in fashion, she helps shape how beauty is represented.

“I thought if I didn’t have representation I can’t do this, and you can fully represent yourself.” she says. “Being a Black girl in Boston is mastering code-switching. I used to code-switch so much. Now, you get the me that you get. Being a Black woman in Boston is navigating these different scenes and being fully Black and being OK with that. If you don’t like it, that’s definitely something you need to unpack.”

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Part of her self-love journey is rooted in the way her sister loved her.

“The power of being a Black woman, of being a dark-skinned Black woman, is not only in feeling confident, but in sharing that confidence,” she says.

"The burden was never yours to carry," by Tawny Chatmon.tawny chatmon

Loving on Black folk, especially Black women, is part of Tawny Chatmon’s mission to as an artist. Her work, a mixture of painting and portraiture, is a regal reflection of Blackness.

“The first human beings on the planet were dark-skinned. Dark skin is beautiful. Dark skin has purposely been excluded. So it’s really important that I celebrate the beauty of Black women, men, children, and families,” Chatmon says.

Her work is so often a response to the ways in which our hair, our clothes, and our culture are criminalized. She uses gold paints and rich tones to illustrate our worth.

“I feel that we know Black is beautiful and I feel that I am affirming that beauty,” says Chatmon, who is based in Maryland. “God knew what he was doing when he put me in this body and for the rest of the years that I will be in this body, while I’m on this planet, I will make use of being a Black woman.”

So when we see each other out in the world, we sing a song for Black girls. Our hugs, reserved for one another, have a dance in them, a way of holding each other up and knowing we are sisters.

Black Girl Magic is a million little revolutions that say you belong here.


Jeneé Osterheldt can be reached at jenee.osterheldt@globe.com and on Twitter @sincerelyjenee.