Black women have endured generations of being treated, by media and community alike, as if we are unworthy of love and respect, are unattractive and undesirable, and we are expected to rise above the negativity and continue to put others before ourselves. We can no longer internalize this hateful, damaging nonsense, and we have to do everything we can to make sure the next generation of little Black girls coming into this world know they are valued, told they are beautiful, encouraged to reach their fullest potential, and embody the “Black Girl Magic” that lives in each of us. Janelle Monáe warned us in her song “Django Jane” that because Whites can’t stand our magic, they’ll try to deny us the right to claim it. Black Feminism can be a protection and a guide, and as more of us become parents, we have a responsibility to change the narrative, minimize the harm, and shift our culture and communities toward appreciation and respect for Black women and girls everywhere. Bringing our daughters up believing in and never questioning the existence of their own “magic” is restorative and promising, electrifying and declarative, radical and hopeful.
When CaShawn Thompson, a fortysomething mother of two, was growing up in Washington, DC, she knew no other truth to be more consistent and potent than the idea that she and other Black girls like her were magical. It was not a trifle notion of whimsy but rather a truism as commonly understood as fire being hot and humans needing oxygen to breathe. She grew up believing in the fairy tales her parents read to her when she was just a small child, so the lines between reality and fantasy were often blurred for her, and she was perfectly content with that.
In January of 2018, I interviewed Thompson because I wanted to share her story and the origins of #BlackGirlsAreMagic, the hashtag she began to use to highlight Black women’s accomplishments and as a rallying call for our empowerment. She was beginning to pick up momentum with being recognized as the creator of the movement, and more people were reaching out to her to include her in conversations, panels, and projects related to “Black Girl Magic.” Having known Thompson for many years and having supported the movement from the beginning, I wanted to provide her an opportunity to share her story and clear up any misconceptions about what #BlackGirlsAreMagic is all about. Below are excerpts from our conversation:
Feminista Jones: So this was something that you knew from an early age and it just kind of carried you. Tell me about “Pretty Brown Girl,” ’cause we cannot talk about Black Girl Magic without talking about Pretty Brown Girl. Tell me how you got into that.
CaShawn Thompson: “Pretty Brown Girl” was a moniker that I used for myself when I was logging on MySpace, like, ten years ago. It came from my father telling my sister and I that. My parents are very pro-Black, if we are going to call it anything. We were raised to know “Black is beautiful,” “Say it loud say it proud,” raised in that way, like, completely immersed in Black cultural music, food, literature, everything was always around us. I remember I never had to go away from my people to find myself as a Black person, as a Black girl, as a Black woman. It was, like, literally ingrained in me from birth.
FJ: Were your parents involved in any Black organizations or anything like that?
CT: I remember them being a part of this organization here in DC called Black Seeds, and we would go to their meetings and their children’s workshops and different things like that.
FJ: It was like a community organization?
CT: Yeah, it was really local from what I understand, and they have a calendar. I think they [her parents] still get it. They had a calendar and they even published some of my mother’s poetry. That was way back when.
FJ: So they really instilled early on that Black is the truth and you should be happy you’re Black? And your dad called you his pretty round girl?
FJ: When you created the blog on MySpace, what spaces did the blog exist on [after that platform ended]? I know you migrated and you had your own blog. Were there any other platforms that you used for Pretty Brown Girl?
CT: After MySpace, I started spending a lot of time on Very Smart Brothas. When it first started, in its early, early, earliest days, everybody always thought I had good advice. “Oh you should do an advice column, you should do an advice column,” so I had one called “Hey, You Asked.” I did that for a little while, and then I decided that I was into nail polish and Black beauty, so I did a nail polish blog called 52 Flavors. It just started out like that because I wanted to do fifty-two nail polishes in a year, and I did that and various kinds of beauty posts. And then after that, I just wanted to do a lifestyle blog where I put all those things in one spot. I asked a friend of mine, “What would you call a lifestyle blog by me? Something where I talk about life and my experiences and understandings, and also nail polish and makeup and outfits and hair and all that kind of stuff?” She was like “Dirty Pretty Things,” and so Dirty Pretty Things was a blog I had for a while. It actually won one of those awards. What was that, Black Bloggers Association or something? I cannot even remember.
FJ: When did you join Twitter?
CT: I joined Twitter October 2008, and I did not honestly start using it until the end of that year, beginning of next year, like January of 2009.
FJ: And then were you sharing your blog links on Twitter, with people?
CT: Definitely. I was sharing my blog links on Twitter at the time, and that’s how the word kind of got around. I thought Twitter was the best platform for me because it is for wit and brevity, which people seem to know me for. At least they seemed to at that time, and it worked for me so well. I think organically I just started growing followers because I was able to use the platform so deftly in a time when we still had 140 characters. You remember how it used to be back in the day!
FJ: So take me back to when you first started talking about Black Girls Are Magic or when you first started using the hashtag.
CT: I first used Black Girl Magic I want to say June of 2013.
FJ: 2013 is coming up in my research too. Someone else had used it before you, but she did not make it popular.
CT: The difference was, I was the first person to use it and reference Black girl empowerment. Other times it was used before, it was always something about Black girl’s and Black women’s hair. I was the first person to use Black Girl Magic or Black Girls Are Magic in the realm of uplifting Black women. Not so much about our aesthetic but just who we are.
FJ: Before you started selling the merchandise, how popular was this idea, this hashtag? Did you start seeing other people start to use it?
CT: I did see a few people starting to use it, like you and a few other people. It was very like, you know, my homegirls that I talked to on Twitter and that was pretty much it, you and Sydette (@Black Amazon) were using it back then.
FJ: What made you want to turn it into merchandise?
CT: I think somebody just said listen, it should be on a T-shirt, you know. I had seen other people use Teespring when Teespring first popped off, and I thought, “This is a simple enough way to do this, and maybe I can sell about thirty shirts and my friends will have one; it will be a nice thing to have.” But it turned into a lot more than I expected it to. That first [campaign] sold 330 shirts.
FJ: How long did it take to sell 330 shirts? Was that in the first month, three months . . . ?
CT: That was probably within the first month. Yeah, it did not take long to sell that many shirts.
FJ: When people started wearing the shirts and posting the pictures, what was some of the initial feedback?
CT: All the feedback I got in the beginning was good. I never got a negative comment about Black Girls Are Magic or Black Girl’s Magic until just, was it this year? Maybe last year? Yeah, but all the feedback was positive.
Hashtags like #BlackGirlsAreMagic or the more popular, abbreviated version, #BlackGirlMagic, serve as a call to action for Black women. They function as a reminder of our power and our unique beauty, internal and external. When Black girls and women make the news, breaking barriers and making history, we highlight their accomplishments with these hashtags. When Black girls and women show up, for ourselves and for others, we want the world to know this is who we are and how we have always been. We do not have to be supernatural or superhuman to be magic—we just need to be. The continuation of our mere existence is magical in itself, and the ways in which we are able to shine and thrive, against all odds, should be honored and celebrated. What started as a hashtag has transformed into a movement that has changed how we speak about Black girls and women, and the world is beginning to see us and appreciate us for all of our contributions to forward progress. There is so much that would not exist were it not for us, and sometimes we just need a reminder that we are, indeed, magic.
About the Author
Feminista Jones is a Philadelphia-based social worker, feminist writer, public speaker, and community activist. She is an award-winning blogger and the author of the novel Push the Button and the poetry collection The Secret of Sugar Water. She was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in Philadelphia and one of the Top 100 Black Social Influencers by The Root. Her writing has been featured in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Time, Essence, and Ebony magazines. Follow her on Twitter at @FeministaJones and visit her website.