Published on May 3rd, 2018 | by Aya de Leon


Ask Aya: Twitter, Superheroes, and Listening to Black Girl Problems

I spend a fair amount of time on twitter. Since the election, I follow 2,700 people, so I also have a list with about 20-50 people that I follow more closely. One of those accounts is Hand In Hand Parenting. They are my go-to for parenting advice. They have a four-point program:

Play with your kids.

Listen to your kids.

Respect your kids’ emotions and stay close, even when it’s tough.

Develop mutually supportive relationships with other parents where you share your own difficult emotions about this very challenging job that is parenting.

Of course, as a working mom, I generally don’t have time to read the actual articles. But they post multiple times a day, and even the quotes reinforce the basic points.

So this morning, my daughter was driving me nuts. She was storming around and pouting about superhero dress up day at school. She wanted to go as Shuri from Black Panther, but there were no mass-market Halloween costumes yet. I said we could make one, and even found one online that had a YouTube “easy tutorial.” I watched the tutorial, and it was going to be at least 20 hours of work. So much for easy, but props to that black mom for going so hard at her crafting. I promised my daughter we could do something simplified.

So, for this Ask Aya, I’ll share who I ask when I don’t know how to respond: What would Hand In Hand say?

My daughter was afraid of getting teased in something homemade. How about another superhero, La Borinqueña? We could more easily make the costume, but that Puerto Rican superhero had straight hair. And I wasn’t going to let my daughter wear a wig. She needed a superhero that actually looked like her. “But they all have straight hair!” she fumed.

As I scrolled on the internet for a natural-haired superhero (other than the women from Black Panther), all hell broke loose. Nothing was good enough. My daughter was pouty and whiny and half-crying. And we were late for school. This is the point where my mom would have been yelling, and the content would have been “get over it and get in the goddamn car.” In fairness to my mom, she was a single mother and had to parent in greater isolation and much more challenging economic conditions.

As my daughter stormed off again, I gritted my teeth and rolled my eyes. I wasn’t going to yell and do it my mother’s way. But then what? Which is when those tweets from Hand In Hand Parenting floated up into my mind. “Respect the emotions. Get close.” I called my daughter into the kitchen and pulled her into my lap.

“It’s hard to be a black girl on superhero day, huh?”

My daughter nodded.

Julian Fong / Flickr Creative Commons License

So we brainstormed. The following is the note I wrote to her school:

  We hit a snag in preparing for superhero day. Last year, she came as Harriet Tubman in a homemade costume, and kids teased her.

  We talked about it at length (which is why we were late for school) and realized that superheroes are hard on black girls. They are predominantly male. And the female ones mostly have long straight hair. So, as a black girl, she has really limited options, and has to wear a straight wig or it just won’t “look right.”

  I said I would write to you to ask if it can be superheroes and REAL LIFE HEROES. We came up with the idea that she could go as one of the women of the Black Panther Party (the ORIGINAL Black Panthers) in a black dress, a panther pin, an afro, and big hoop earrings (no gun). She was very excited about this because I don’t usually let her wear her hair out (for lice protection), and she never gets to wear big earrings.

  I hope you’ll consider expanding the range.



Thank you Hand In Hand. My mother’s voice was screaming in my head to just get my daughter out the door, but it was a godsend to have an alternative option: to listen and get in close. It allowed me to become an advocate for my daughter, realizing that she’s not “being difficult” she’s facing something difficult. I can’t protect my daughter from the impact of racism and sexism, but I can be a strong ally to her. By the time she finally left for school, she was smiling and enthusiastic, knowing that she’s not alone in these tough spots as a black girl, and that her mom has her back.

Crop of “Dans une ruelle de Prague” by Lys / Flickr Creative Commons License

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About the Author

Aya de León teaches creative writing in the African American Studies Department at UC Berkeley. Kensington Books publishes her award-winning feminist heist series, which includes SIDE CHICK NATION, the first novel published about Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. In May 2020, Aya published her first children’s chapter book, EQUALITY GIRLS AND THE PURPLE REFLECTO-RAY, about an Afro-Latina girl who uses her superpowers to confront the president’s sexism. In December 2020 Kensington published her first standalone novel, A SPY IN THE STRUGGLE, about FBI infiltration of an African American organization fighting for climate justice and Black lives. Her work has also appeared in Harper’s Bazaar, Ebony, Guernica, Writers Digest, Bitch Magazine, Mutha Magazine, VICE, The Root, Ploughshares, and on Def Poetry. In 2020, Candlewick will publish her first YA novel, a Black/Latina spy girl book called UNDERCOVER LATINA. She is an alumna of Cave Canem and VONA. Visit her online at, on Twitter at @ayadeleon, Facebook or Instagram at @ayadeleonwrites, where she writes about race, class, gender, sexuality, culture and climate.

One Response to Ask Aya: Twitter, Superheroes, and Listening to Black Girl Problems

  1. Thea says:

    You’re the best! This is wonderful, on so many levels. Thank you! xo

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