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What happens when ‘Black Girl Magic’ Runs Out?

Celebrate Black Women: This Black History Month pay attention to the mental health needs of black women in your life by allowing them space to be vulnerable without the expectation of ‘Black Girl Magic.’

The popular mantra or congratulatory phrase, ‘Black Girl Magic’ is used to describe black female exceptionalism—that is the black female collective’s ability to overcome challenges with unique grit and resilience. The accomplishments of black women are evident in Serena Williams’ tennis career, Oprah Winfrey’s story of triumph, Stacy Abrams’ Nobel Peace Prize nomination, and most recently Ms. Amanda Gorman’s profound performance at the Biden inauguration. These accomplishments—not to be diminished in their salience—contribute to conflicting dichotomies of black female identity. On the one hand, our needs for justice—criminal justice reform, reproductive rights, employment discrimination nuances—are minimized because ‘black girl magic’ suggests a supernatural ability for black women to handle it all. On the other hand, black women suffer unique and nuanced challenges with disproportionately high maternal mortality rates, ‘pet to threat’ sexual harassment on the job, discriminatory pay, and inadequate legal frameworks to address black female challenges.

According to the CDC in 2019, Black women were 3.2 times more likely to die from pregnancy related death than white women. Even controlling for education, Black Women with at least a college degree had 5.2 times higher mortality rate than white women. In addition to mortality rates, Black people are less likely to be believed and prescribed appropriate pain medication because of false ideas about increased pain tolerance.
Black women are paid 61 cents for every dollar earned by white men. #equalpayday
After paying on their student loans for 12 years, data shows that balances of Black women increased by 13% while white women had paid off 28% of their balances and white men had paid off 44% of their balances. Demos 2019 Study.

While Black Women hold the title of “most educated group” in America, black women are overqualified yet not allowed to sit at many executive tables in corporate America. See, Wells Fargo CEO comments about “limited pool of Black Talent.” See, Distinguished Former Georgia Supreme Court Justice discussing the lack of interest in real law firm diversity. Black Women attempt to navigate the ‘pet to threat’ phenomenon—where your expertise and credentials are minimized at the outset, but later your supervisors become threatened by your accomplishments. Those barriers may come in many forms: missing invitations to meet with prospective clients at some non-inclusive venue, unrealistic deadlines, and overly critical biased evaluations.

The ‘Black Girl Magic’ expectation is not a new phenomenon—the so-called superwoman complex was first created by the enslavement of black people with government sanctioned family separation, rape, and single motherhood. These laws—breastfeeding requirements for enslaver’s children, welfare policies prohibiting father presence in the home, over-policing of black female hair, over-policing of black female bodies, and others—work together to reinforce societal biases.

In federal courts, black women are often forced to choose either their gender or racial identities to make employment discrimination arguments. If, for example, a black man or white woman is treated fairly on the job, a court, depending upon the jurisdiction, may find that no discrimination exists because other black employees and/or women were not discriminated against. Importantly, women who try to advance race + gender arguments, are significantly less successful.

Get to the Point: As an ode to the many amazing accomplishments of Black Women, I challenge you to check on your ‘strong’ black female friend, sister, mother, cousin, or colleague. Ask her how she is and create space to hear a response that might not fit within your expectation. #blackhistorymonth #edmondslawoffice #civilrightsattorney #mentalhealthmatters #intersectionality #sayhername

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