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 at U.C. Berkeley. Kensington Books publishes her adult novels, her award-winning “Justice Hustlers” feminist heist series (which includes SIDE CHICK NATION, the first novel published about Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico), A SPY IN THE STRUGGLE, about a young Black woman FBI agent who infiltrates an African American political organization fighting for climate justice and Black Lives (out now), and QUEEN OF URBAN PROPHECY about women in hip hop, police violence and the climate crisis (out now). In October 2021, Aya published a young adult thriller about a pair of undocumented Dominican teen girls who uncover a kidnapping plot to stop the Green New Deal called THE MYSTERY WOMAN IN ROOM THREE. Given the climate emergency, this novel was too politically urgent for traditional publishing, so it was serialized in in six installments on Orion Magazine, and is available free of charge. In October 2022, her next young adult novel comes out from Candlewick Books, UNDERCOVER LATINA—about a 14-year-old spy who passes for white to stop a white nationalist terrorist—the first in a Black/Latina spy girl series. In spring 2022, Aya is producing a free online conference called Black Literature vs. The Climate Emergency at UC Berkeley African American Studies. Aya is also working on a memoir of her body that explores the intersection of food, body image, race, and the environment. Finally, her Justice Hustlers series has been optioned for television, and she is currently working on the pilot. Find her at

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