Today, the internet stands polarised on issues regarding the representation (or lack thereof) of people of colour. From #BlackGirlMagic to this year’s Oscars boycott, to Beyoncé’s politically charged music video ‘Formation’ and her subsequent Super Bowl performance, inharmonious race relations within popular culture pose the question: whose side are you on?
Originally coined by blogger and self-proclaimed womanist CaShawn Thompson, and later endorsed by teenage activists Willow Smith and Amandla Stenberg, #BlackGirlMagic started as a Twitter hashtag fighting negative stereotypes of black women online with self-love, diversity and womanhood.
Activist Jonetta Elzie and actress Yara Shahidi, on the cover of Essence magazine's January 2016 'Black Girl Magic' issue
Gaining popularity across social media, #BlackGirlMagic has since been used alongside positive images of women of colour from world-famous sportswomen Serena and Venus Williams, to portrayals of fictional characters including Olivia Pope of Scandal and BET's drama ‘Being Mary Jane’.
Somewhat surprisingly, #BlackGirlMagic was criticised by a scholar of twentieth century American and African American literature, Dr. Linda Chavers, in an article for Elle.com entitled ‘Here’s My Problem with #BlackGirlMagic’. Highlighting an insidious flaw in the hashtag, Chavers dismantled the movement by explaining that it perpetuates the idea that women of colour are something otherworldly, non-human and “organically different”, therefore carrying the dangerous idea that they are invincible and can withstand more violence and suffering than the average woman.
Similarly with the Oscar’s boycott, fronted by actress and director Jada Pinkett Smith, the online community split into two camps. Whilst Pinkett Smith shared her impassioned video on Facebook, responding to another white-washed Academy Awards nominee list and encouraging black figures in the entertainment industry to boycott the 2016 awards, actress Stacey Dash brought issues of integration into the fore arguing that if the African American community wishes to be integrated into American society, they need to abolish channels like BET and the NAACP Awards “where you’re only awarded if you are black.”
Presenter Tomi Lahren’s somewhat scathing condemnation of Beyoncé’s ‘Formation’ video and performance at the Super Bowl also touched upon the topic of integration. A piece of black protest art, the music video, charged with overtly black imagery, symbolism and lyricism, clearly nods to the Black Lives Matter movement. Beyoncé upped the ante during her Super Bowl performance, accompanied by dancers in Black Panthers costume, a political party started in 1966 as a militant self-defence mechanism for the African American community against racists.
Despite the critical acclaim Beyoncé has received, white American Lahren scorned Beyoncé during the ‘Final Thoughts’ segment of online news channel ‘The Blaze’, accusing her of “ramrodding an aggressive agenda” and using the Super Bowl as “a way to politicise and advance the notion that black lives matter more”.
Obviously, the Black Lives Matter movement is a campaign to end police brutality, not a campaign to place higher value on the lives of people with dark skin. Perhaps Lahren was reasonable in thinking that the Super Bowl is “a game that brings Americans of every colour, background and political party together…a celebration of diversity rooted in a common bond.” Perhaps it’s true that the Super Bowl, as a symbol of the unification of American society, is not the best place for politics.
Ripe with discussions about representation, diversity and integration, race issues today are much more complex than they were in the past. It’s time for the world to recognise that the black community is diverse within itself, with different backgrounds, life experiences and opinions. For some this involves celebrating difference, for some finding common ground. So, why not have an open relationship with matters such as #BlackGirlMagic and the Oscars boycott, and use your freedom of speech to express how you feel as a unique individual about race, representation, diversity and society.
Words: Shaheeda Sinckler