Who do you think of when you hear the term “Black Girl Magic”? Do you think of the four-time Olympic champion Simone Biles? Tennis star and highest paid athlete Naomi Osaka? Maybe you’re thinking of Grammy-winning India Arie or award-winning actress Taraji P. Henson? Each of these women is a beacon of power, talent and excellence while showing the courage and vulnerability to say “enough”.
Black Girl Magic lives in the same un-MARVEL-ous universe as Black Superwoman, who has the dubious difference of being compared to a syndrome. Like Dr. Cheryl L. Woods-Giscombé, in her 2010 study, explains: The role of the Black Superwoman has advantages and liabilities – with an emphasis on liabilities.
Black women naturally face the harsh reality of double oppression: gender discrimination on the one hand and racism on the other. The myth of the black woman is that she is impermeable. This assigned impermeability has a significant impact on their mental, physical, and emotional health.
Although black women have consistently overcome obstacles to achieving great success – such as becoming the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs in the US or leading the majority of social justice reform movements – these women are (mostly) both at the same time Breadwinners as well as the main caretakers of their families, which makes this success an extremely high price.
Black women and mental health
Black women are at greater risk of suffering from anxiety and depression from these stressors, and research has shown that black women have more chronic anxiety and symptoms than their white counterparts. Even so, black women are less likely to find and receive adequate treatment, and for good reason.
First, there is a lack of diversity and cultural literacy within the therapeutic community that leads to a lack of understanding of the increased stressors of racism, discrimination, and sexism that exist in black women’s everyday lives. These shortcomings are representative of the shortcomings of society and are expressed in all areas, large and small.
Take Naomi Osaka, who recently lost her match representing Japan at the Olympics and cited the heavy pressure she was under. This came after she was convicted and threatened for withdrawing from the French Open and Wimbledon to give her mental health priority over media claims from four tennis organizations. Echoing Osaka’s sentiment when she was eliminated from her team’s gymnastics finals this week, Simone Biles said she wanted to focus on her mental health and that “mental health is more common in sport these days.”
Oscar-winning actress and Oscar winner Taraji P. Henson also became a crusader on mental health, particularly when it came to black women, saying, “People expect black women to be strong. We are invincible. We are magical, majestic, something else. . . Why can’t we just be human? “
Iconic singer India Arie became a wellness champion after entering the music industry and hit her mental, spiritual and physical health hard on all levels. She recently launched an online practice called The Wellness of We, which aims to promote collective wellbeing and community care.
These stories are more than just headlines for black women in America. They are an acknowledgment of a problem that women of color, especially black women, face every day as they struggle at the altar of black girl magic – the eternally resilient and powerful superhero stereotype that captures more women of color than it sets free.
Myth or mistake
Black Girl Magic is a label that emerged from a movement created to celebrate the resilience and power of black women and has become synonymous with superheroes who can do anything and can conquer anything. It is an empowerment in full swing that betrays a harmful and unrealistic belief that black women possess some kind of secret magic that gives them the inherent strength to withstand any kind of pressure, pain, and adversity. It makes them practically invincible and – even worse – responsible for the harsh and punitive reactions they get for failing to live up to the hype. Placing blame is so much easier than examining and dismantling the systems, organizations, and mindsets that create the pressure, pain, and adversity in the first place.
Although the Black Girl Magic label has been adopted by many black women because it was originally intended to celebrate our ability to overcome the challenges, obstacles and institutional barriers that have been presented to us, it has become a double-edged sword. The sharp edge of the knife cuts deep as black women struggle to be viewed as human – simple and complex as that is – but have grown accustomed to suffering in silence and being tired, exhausted, overlooked and overworked, all the while acting with constant social prejudice and pressure. These struggles often result in a daily struggle to manage anxiety and depression that have often become the norm for black women.
Debunk the myth
How can we replace the myth of black girl magic with a reality (and culture) that empowers black women to be more self-sufficient and rejects these harmful expectations and stereotypes?
First, let’s start by celebrating black women like Simone Biles, Taraji P. Henson, Naomi Osaki, and India Arie for having the courage to break down the myth, share their stories, and bring their wellbeing and mental health to the fore to deliver. Let us also have the courage to take bold steps to ensure that the guard rails to protect and maintain the mental health of every individual and, frankly, society at large are in place.
Actions for All of Us Mental Health America encourages us to “Rethink Self-Care for Black People” through these key actions:
- Reach out to trusted people who can hold space for you
- Connect with things that bring you joy or energy
- Ask yourself what you want and need right now and then get involved
- Rethink your coping mechanisms and remove those that no longer serve you
- Create boundaries for yourself in a way that works specifically for you
Each of us can be a beacon for others by making our wellbeing a priority. For black women, prioritizing yourself is a revolutionary act. It’s an act of survival. It’s an act of generosity. If we follow the examples of women like Biles, Osaka, Henson, and Arie, we can be more than magical. We can be human.
Wema Hoover is a global leader and leader in diversity, equity & inclusion. She has led DEI at several Fortune 500 companies including Google, Sanofi, Pfizer and Bristol-Myers Squibb.