Recently, I was in the car with my two older sons (ages 5 & 7) when they started teasing each other about liking girls in their respective classes. At one point, my oldest said to his younger brother that a girl who shall remain nameless liked him. The younger one replied indignantly, nearing the point of blows, that he did not like her. His level of condemnation and disgust was one I had heard before. I knew, without question, that the girl who he did not want to be associated with was a little black girl. I asked him who he was talking about and he confirmed my suspicions. I recognized his distaste because about 25 years ago, I was on the other end of it. I was the lone black girl in a sea of white faces. To my peers, I was an anomaly, and if friendship was offered, even at that young age, I could only be a sidekick. Much like the actresses I saw in movies, as a black woman, I could not be a leader and was expected to follow behind in awe. I let myself be lulled from my wokeness into a sleep of disillusion and I believed that in an age where Black Panther topped the box office and Lupita was his leading lady, that black women were entering the aesthetic. How could I be so naïve? In a world where our former first lady, Michelle Obama, is likened to an ape. In a world where Beyonce and Rihanna are still airbrushed to look lighter. In a world where Stacy Dash wants to be white. In this world, how could I believe that black women’s magic had translated over to beauty? The pervasiveness of white beauty is still so strong. To be a black woman who is beautiful under the American gaze, you must either be wholly exotic and undoubtedly foreign, or you must look light enough to pass for biracial or something other than black. Despite building my boys up and surrounding them with positive and beautiful images of black women, they have still found themselves lured by the white normative standard of beauty. This standard will hurt them but not nearly as much as their female counterparts who will be judged for their kinky hair and their voluptuous lips. The same features that will be celebrated and revered on white women after hours of surgery will be condemned in my sons’ black female counterparts. Black girl magic will not be enough to protect them from those moments of self-doubt and, honestly, despite the progression, we are the “Just For Me” generation. Sure, we wear our hair natural now but a great deal of us work those twist outs and braid outs to hide and manipulate a curl pattern that is just as unmanageable as our ancestry. We ascertain that weaves and wigs are for protective styling but are we protecting our hair or ourselves from that critical American gaze? From that critical self-gaze? When H&M recently released a new ad campaign online there was backlash from the black community about the state of the little black girl’s hair. Words that black people used to describe it was “unkempt” and “nappy”. As I read the comments online on social media and under articles, I realized that every black woman offering good-intentioned advice was one who probably believed in black girl magic but not enough to fly free of the white gaze.
I told my boys that day the story of how no one thought I was pretty because of my brown skin. I beseeched them to be kinder and gentler because little girls have hearts that get hurt easy. I told them that they can like who they want but to be sure that when they liked someone, they liked them for more than how they look. They nodded. Only time will tell. As for me, I’m about to wrap my hair in this headwrap and take them into the world. Later on, I’m going to do a protective style and take pictures of it, hashtag black girl magic.