The more I begin to observe national sporting events or televised athletic competitions, the more I’ve noticed how Black women and girls are increasingly valued in society.
My social media timelines have a diverse representation of ethnicities that consume about the same amount of pop culture as I do based on their conversations and news shares. On an average day, the achievements of Black women are typically celebrated by other Black women and a few Black men who profess their love for them abundantly. But wait until it’s one of the Williams sisters breaking another tennis record — or Beyoncé performing somewhere — and then all of a sudden Black women become everyone’s inspiration.
The phenomenon is as fascinating as it is problematic. Black women have to display a ridiculous amount of raw talent in order to receive their fair share of acknowledgment and praise.
As a community, we call it #BlackGirlMagic. We saw it at this year’s summer Olympics in Rio when Black women and girls dominated their categories. Simone Biles, Simone Manuel, Michelle Carter, Gabby Douglas, Venus and Serena Williams, Rafaela Silva, Nia Ali, Almaz Ayana, Ibtihaj Muhammad, Elaine Thompson and many others broke barriers, stereotypes and records as they competed fiercely and unapologetically. And whether or not they won gold, their presence in this capacity was still a powerful representation of Black excellence (and magic).
I’m not saying this because major news headlines and our white friends are now less hesitant to celebrate them, but because these Black athletes’ ambition in competing at this level should still earn them a pat on the back.
Too often I have noticed a turn in the tide in how our community chooses to celebrate Black women. It’s not until “they” — our white peers and predominately white news cycles — temporarily succumb to acknowledging how talented and deserving Black women are that we then rise up and brag about them. How many times do you notice the trend of #BlackGirlMagic used when a sporting event decides to zoom in on a Black woman? What happens when Black female athletes aren’t competing and Beyoncé is not slaying? Do we see so much of that #BlackGirlMagic showcased? In other words, the media and society has begun to set terms on when we should celebrate the achievements of Black women and girls and we need to change that.
For one, such terms set by the media’s predominately white gaze never works out in our favor and often hinders and distracts us. Such has been the case for gymnast Gabby Douglas, who left this year’s Olympics in tears after having to respond to the racist remarks and cyber-bullying she faced from the media and public for simply being human. After her incredible performance at the 2012 summer Olympics in London, Douglas was considered unstoppable as she broke records in gymnastics and went on to garner endorsement deals that most 16-year-old girls could only dream of.
Now, at age 20, higher expectations meant Douglas would be subdued by more racialized scrutiny and taunting of her hair, facial expressions and even forgetting to place her hand on her heart during the national anthem. When Douglas finished seventh during the Olympics uneven bars competition, it was clear the pressure took a toll. The media generated Gabby’s hype and then turned against her. I encourage our community to support her and acknowledge her magic even after the white gaze of spectators leave. Their attention may shift, but our excellence never will.
Which brings me back to this, we should reset the terms of how #BlackGirlMagic should be cultivated and appreciated moving forward. Let’s not let the media dictate what is or isn’t an exceptional move made by young Black girls and women. Our community has thousands of inspirational examples of Black female achievement beyond sports and entertainment. Let’s not wait for them to tell us how monumental Black women are when it’s convenient for headlines and trending topics. Everyday Black women and girls are making history in their communities throughout various fields that contribute to the welfare of the world.
From now on, our community should push the needle on celebrating how much #BlackGirlsRock on a regular basis. If the media can make the mediocrity of reality TV stars flourish and newsworthy — this should further encourage us to root even harder for the remarkable talents all of our Black women and girls possess.
Originally from Chicago, Illinois, Ernest Owens is an award-winning multimedia journalist and editor for Philadelphia Magazine's G Philly. At 24 years old, he is the youngest weekly columnist for a major American city with his iconoclastic column, The Ernest Opinion, for Metro US. His work has been featured in USA Today, The Huffington Post, The Advocate and other media outlets. Later this year, the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists will be awarding Owens their prestigious Trailblazer Award for his innovative, barrier-breaking contributions to media. A graduate from the University of Pennsylvania, he is currently producing and starring in his own television talk show, ErnestlySpeaking!, at Philadelphia Community Access Media, where he is the youngest television host to have a talk show in Philadelphia.
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