During Black History Month 2017, as we reflect on our past and look to our future, it’s undeniable that Black women are making moves and are a force to be reckoned with from business, to entertainment to politics, we are demonstrating how we truly lead and what the term #BlackGirlMagic is all about.
As we said goodbye to First Lady Michelle Obama last month, we reflected on what her leadership and her very presence meant for Black Women. See, the FLOTUS epitomized what so many in the Black community already know: despite the long-standing institutional and cultural barriers that attempt to block Black women from achieving their educational, professional and personal pursuits, there are many who have boldly knocked down those barriers. Today, they shine as bright examples of determination, excellence, wit, grit, power and grace.
Also in January, Serena had us glued to our TV screens as she smashed the Australian Open and now holds more Grand Slam singles titles in the history of the game. Black women took to the streets to flex our activism and raise our voices.
They said we wouldn’t show up to march, but we proved them wrong. We did indeed show up, not only in Washington, DC, but across the country ready to fight and take action to protect our rights.
Even in the midst of a brutal political battle in Washington, that #BlackGirlMagiccan break through and provide a moment to celebrate. And Beyoncé did not disappoint, as news that she was expecting twins, broke Twitter. And it’s only the second week of February.
Over the past year alone, we witnessed Black women use their cultural capital to advance key social issues. The group included writer Chimamanda Ngozie Adiche, who called a new generation of women to the urgent work of feminism; director Ava DuVerney, who pushed forward the campaign to end the prison-industry pipeline that is rooted in slavery; performer Solange, who lay bare the emotional ravages of the implicit bias at the core of American culture; and Broadway producer Alia Jones Harvey and playwright Danai Gurira, who offered a power illustration of how African women brought a country back from the brink of annihilation.
Black women’s most powerful work comes, however, when we move as a group, and we did that to great success this past November despite some of the more disappointing election outcomes. In a political system where Black women are underrepresented, our voices often overlook and our votes taken for granted, it was our organizing and trips to the booth that carried an unprecedented wave of Black women into office in 2016. They include U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (Calif.), Minnesota State Representative Ilhan Omar, U.S. Rep. Lisa Blount (Del.) and Illinois Attorney General Kim Foxx. Many of these women shattered glass ceilings to claim their offices and take on the task of moving our country forward.
In the aftermath of the 2016 election, pundits, politicians and policymakers such as Mark Lilla in his November 18, 2016 New York Times opinion piece have begun positing a shift away from the strategies, messaging, issues and policies championed by Black women and the growing diverse constituency that gather under the Democratic tent. Lilla and others argue that embracing these policies only promotes “identity politics” and isolates White voters. The argument, however, is clearly flawed given that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by more than 2 million ballots, and Trump capture office due to our country’s antiquated electoral college – a system that was created by the chief architects of identity politics – rich, White men.
We are living in frightening and uncertain times, and it is tempting to lower our voices and retreat to lick the wounds of betrayal that America has once again visited upon its citizens of color and other marginalized groups. But, now more than ever, it’s critical that we unpack the promise and power of Black girl magic, because history tells us it’s a game changer.
Over the coming months and next three years, voters, organizations, individual activists and power brokers will no doubt ask themselves which leaders to support and what issues to put their energies behind in order to move our country towards a safe, prosperous and representational place for all.
Black female leadership on the political, activist and cultural fronts will be vital to the success of these efforts. We need new voices to join the recent crop of Black women elected to local, state and national office if we’re going to ensure laws that champion fairness and opportunity, not bias and undue advantage for a few.
We should not be dismayed or sidetracked, but emboldened and encouraged to double down on our urgently needed leadership and advance our cultural presence, because much of the “whitelash” that we’re seeing is no doubt a misguided reaction to the fact that Black women are shattering glass ceilings.
But as history has shown, our achievements do not displace others, but in fact pave the way for a more diverse population of Americans to succeed.
Glynda Carr is co-founder of Higher Heights for America, a national organization focused on harnessing black women’s political power and leadership potential.