The Markle Sparkle is real. The Duchess of Sussex is pure poise, professionalism and positivity, and, at times, she can seem more like a Disney Princess whose life is a fairytale beyond imagination. But then there other days, like the one last week, when the crown comes off and she gets real about how hard it is to be a black mother, especially one who is married to the embodiment of Western ethos and who lives within a white supremacist society where the press criticizes her every move.
While I am in no way royalty and the press does not follow my every move, as a black woman, I completely relate to the duchess’ pain, her experience of constant scrutiny, and the fear of raising a child in a society where you do not feel safe, wanted, or held.
In 2019, it is safe to say that #BlackGirlMagic is a commonly used phrase that showcases that we are capable of absolutely anything. In the United States, as in Great Britain, black women are used to spinning scraps into solid gold, sometimes with no help, no resources and no indication that everything will be OK. We get to work early and stay late. We create full meals to feed our entire family for $5.
We take care of our parents and elders and make sure that they get to live a dignified life even when they are unable to earn a wage. We send money back home to our families to help put our nieces and nephews in activities like dance and t-ball and to help them pay for prom. We do this without complaint, and because of an abiding sense of duty. Even if we are tired, hungry or feel completely incapable of taking another step, we still know that we still have to do our best and be the best because that is our only option in cis-hetero-normative white supremacist capitalistic countries where blackness, woman-ness, and femme-ness are not only marginalized but actively discriminated against.
At a time when black woman are dying in childbirth at 3-4 times the rate of white women and our families are being targeted by racist law enforcement agencies, it is completely unstainable to push through life pretending that everything is fine.
Black girl magic is the latest iteration of a long history of lifting ourselves up as a group and highlighting the groundbreaking things that we do as black women. A lot of my childhood was spent looking up at the accomplishments of people who look like me. My mother put me in tennis lessons so I could be like Serena and Venus Williams (even though I really stunk at tennis)—or encouraged me to be a radical activist like Harriet Tubman and Mary McLeod Bethune. That one stuck and I am proud to be a reproductive health and justice attorney and policy expert today. But even I find myself thinking that I can do even more, because Beyoncé only has 24 hours in a day, too, and being tired would not stop her.
What I often have to remember, though, is that Beyoncé, like all of us, has hard days, too.
Why do we as black women only congratulate ourselves and others for our accomplishments and not for our vulnerabilities and actual realities? The fact that we wake up and go about our business is magical. Our existence is pure black girl magic. But how can we expand the concept of black girl magic to incorporate reality, brokenness and the hurt that we experience on a daily basis? How can we speak our truth like Meghan Markle and say that “we are not OK?”
Queering reproductive justice (QRJ), which is a framework and a movement, can help lead us in the right direction. As a framework, queering reproductive justice will be achieved when all people have the ability to determine if, when and how to partner, parent and raise oneself and one’s family in safe and healthy environments absent white supremacy, capitalism, heteropatriarchy, and religious mandates. QRJ demands that all people have the right to exist in spaces absent stigma and systemic institutional oppression. It demands that all people have the right not to partner with others and not to have a child; and the right to create a family of one’s choosing, whether that is with one or more consenting persons, regardless of one’s sexual orientation, gender identity or sexual expression. It is also the right to have a child and build a family without regard to traditional forms of conception, pregnancy, birthing or two-parent child-rearing.
If we apply the queering reproductive justice analysis to the black girl magic phenomenon, we will see that the essence of black girl magic is the ability to live well and be free, which includes space for tears and vulnerability.
Today, we must look to the Duchess of Sussex’s words, demeanor and truth as not just sad, but extremely powerful and honest and exactly how we all should be living out our black girl magic days—with royal honesty. Thank you, Duchess, for always inspiring me and countless others, and for being a beacon of hope in hard times. #WeLoveYouMeghan.
Candace Bond-Theriault is the Senior Policy Counsel for Reproductive Rights, Health and Justice, and the Democracy Project Director at the National LGBTQ Task Force. She works through a black queer feminist lens to create change and shift culture towards intersectional liberation through increasing abortion access, contraceptive equity and ensuring religious exemptions don’t override civil rights protections.