Black girl magic is real.
Black woman magic is real.
It’s in Nina Simone singing “Blues for Mama” in the way that only she could.
It’s in Harriet Tubman, who, though illiterate in the white man’s language (because he made it against his law for her to learn it), was a master of the language of plants and spirit. No one could legislate that.
It’s in Alice Walker who, undoubtedly thinking about Tubman and countless other women held in physical bondage, included as part of her definition of “Womanism,” the statement, “Traditionally capable, as in: ‘Mama, I’m walking to Canada and I’m taking you and a bunch of other slaves with me.’ Reply: ‘It wouldn’t be the first time.’”
It’s in Sister Shirley Chisholm who in 1972, with all of its history weighing on her shoulders, decided that, she could run this country; who battled and banished cancer from her body during her grueling year of a campaign trail strewn with slights, outright assaults, and humiliations.
It’s in the Combahee Rive Collective, named for Tubman’s incredible feat of freeing from physical bondage over 250 enslaved souls during the Civil War, making in 1977 the audacious and still true statement in 2020 that “If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all systems of oppression.”
It’s in Dr. Andree Nicola McLaughlin taking a young, very lost black girl under her vast protective wing and mentoring and nurturing her to womanhood.
It’s in Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi starting an international movement following the murder of yet another black child, Trayvon Martin, simply for existing and which has galvanized millions across the globe.
It’s in Tarana Burke, who in 2006, well before it became a Hollywood hashtag, starting the MeToo Movement to help other women with similar experiences to stand up for themselves.
It’s in Rev. Zenju Earthlyn Manuel who took Buddhism, a spiritual tradition seen as foreign and oppositional to the Black church tradition in which she grew and was nurtured, and bringing her black woman queerness right to the heart of it and guiding others on the path to liberation.
There are countless other women I could name, but that’s not the point.
And I want to acknowledge that those whom I have listed are not magical because of what they’ve done, but because of who they are innately.
I was recently reminded of Black women’s magic when I watched the speculative/sci-fi film Fast Color about three generations of black women with supernatural powers living in a dystopian America. They are hiding from scientists (all white men) who, if they had their way, would study and control them.
The plot, dangerous in its premise, is masterfully conveyed through both cinematography and script. The three generations of women who are the film’s center, Ruth, Bo, and Lila, are channeled by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Lorraine Toussaint, and Saniyya Sidney respectively. Not only are their portrayals of the women amazing, but the camera work, featuring prolonged close-ups of each of their faces, celebrates black women’s incredible beauty. I was repeatedly left breathless, lost in the worlds that were hinted at in their eyes, their flawless skin, each a variation of rich chocolate, their full well-defined lips that speak such truths. These close-ups are balanced by wide-angle shots of the three together: under a deep blue night sky, in the kitchen where black women have been cooking up medicine for centuries, at the dining table where we gather and talk and make magic and heal the world.
The film is not only balanced visually, but also in its message. We see what’s possible when as children, when we are most malleable, our magic is nurtured and we learn how to work with it. We also witness the destruction that ensues when we are taught to hate ourselves and reject our gifts; a painful reality for far too many of us.
In the end, the film shows us that fantasy/science/speculative fiction, as the writer Walter Mosley wrote in his 1998 essay “Black to the Future,” may have a special allure for black people who “have been cut off from their African ancestry by the scythe of slavery and from an American heritage by being excluded from history. For us science fiction offers an alternative where that which deviates from the norm is the norm.”
Five years earlier, in 1993, scholar Mark Dery defined Afrofuturism in his essay by the same name as Mosley’s as “speculative fiction that treats African-American themes and addresses African-American concerns in the context of twentieth-century technoculture—and, more generally, African American signification that appropriates images of technology and a prosthetically enhanced future.”
For more on this check out Yes! Magazine’s wonderful article “How Black Women are Reshaping Afrofuturism” by Jonita Davis.
Speculative fiction helps us imagine a world where we are free; something that black women have been imagining and birthing into reality for centuries.
Harriet Tubman did it.
Shirley Chisholm did it.
Lorraine Hansberry did it.
Angela Y. Davis is doing it.
bell hooks is doing it.
Alice Walker is doing it.
Andree Nicola McLaughlin is doing it.
Rev. Zenju Earthly Manuel is doing it.
Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi are doing it.
Imani Perry is doing it.
Tarana Burke is doing it.
Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Lorraine Toussaint, and Saniyya Sidney are doing it.
Nina Simone did it.
Octavia E. Butler did it.
Toni Morrison did it.
Tananarive Due is doing it.
N.K. Jemison is doing it.
Cheryl A. Wall did it.
Of course I could go on for pages and pages.
But again, this is not about listing accomplishments and accolades.
It’s about reminding us of how magical we truly are simply for being.
As the brilliant Dharma teacher, Noliwe Alexander says, all we need to do is “Remember to remember.”
Fast Color is available on Amazon Prime—definitely recommended!
I leave you, beloveds, with a little Nina…