TV Host Melissa Harris-Perry on Black Girl Magic

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Melissa Harris-Perry says it's "just for your damn self."
Melissa Harris-Perry says it's "just for your damn self."Photo: Terrence Jennings

Black Girl Magic means different things to different people, but at its heart, it’s a phrase used to celebrate black girls and women. Wednesday night, we caught up with Melissa Harris-Perry, host of Melissa Harris-Perry on MSNBC and a professor of politics and international affairs at Wake Forest University, and asked what she thought of the phrase. Harris-Perry received the Ida B. Wells award at ImageNation Cinema Foundation’s Revolution Awards.

“I like Black Girl Magic, which I just sort of think of as a way of designating the joyous or happy parts of the experience of black womanhood and black girlhood, even in the context of inequality,” Harris-Perry said. She referenced Robin Kelley, a professor of American History at UCLA and a prominent African-American labor historian. In Kelley’s text Race Rebels, he writes about how Malcolm X thought of himself as apolitical when he was a “Zoot Suiter,” before his incarceration and conversion to Islam. But Kelley argues that Malcolm was political long before that; just being a black man wearing a Zoot Suit was actually an indelibly political act, a refusal to be a part of the war effort.

“The way Kelley puts it, the labor of black bodies has always been used to make other people wealthy, so when a black body is used just for its own enjoyment, there is revolution even in that,” Harris-Perry said. Think the empowering selfies of young black women on Tumblr. Think Black Hermione. Think basically everything in “Formation.”

“What I like about Black Girl Magic,” Harris-Perry continued, “is that it designates those moments when black girlhood or black womanhood isn’t being used for surplus labor value for some other system, but just for your damn self.”