Mahogany Browne’s words twine around Jess Snow’s art in Black Girl Magic, one single short poem that carries centuries of anguish and defiance and Black girl magic in its pages. It feels like it was written to be performed, and as it stands here, in concert with Snow’s art, it becomes almost a graphic novel, a marriage of text and art.
Browne captures so much in so few words—all those ain’t supposed tos, and the only supposed tos, and those things to carry (babies, a country, silence, structural racism, misogynoir). That country-carrying hits hard, right now in an election season, but so too do the twin catalogs of ain’t supposed tos and only supposed tos, falling into sharp relief against uprisings and collective rage borne of centuries of racism. (And I guess you could say Columbus is here, too, isn’t he, even if he isn’t mentioned: because that chain flows all the way back to him.)
But Browne and Snow capture defiance, too. Words and art working together, they celebrate powerful Black women from Nina Simone to Michelle Obama, an exhortation to self love and self care, to the defiance of love. (And that’s another thread: we saw it in Nikki Giovanni’s Love Poems, too.)
Black Girl Magic is beautiful, and it’s sad, and it made me angry, and it made me want to fight for a better world. Because I don’t want anyone to grow up with catalogs of ain’t supposed tos and and only supposed tos.
And, for what it’s worth: Black Girl Magic was written for teens, but it’ll suit middle graders, too. And older elementary students as well.