For the first time in several months, I decided to pick up a copy of Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur #15, despite my reservations regarding the ongoing series. (See the following excerpt from an open letter I sent to Marvel on 22 August 2016.)
Open Letter to Marvel
“Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur brought me tears of joy when I first learned about the title. I could not contain my excitement when the first issue was placed lovingly into my waiting hands. I devoured the first two issues just so happy to have this little girl in my life, but there was something nagging at me the entire time. It wasn’t until Issue #4 when I realized what it was: Lunella’s relationship with her parents.[…] Lunella’s interaction with her parents shows a lack of cultural awareness and understanding on the part of the two Caucasian writers. […] I allowed a Caucasian co-worker to read each issue of this series so I could test a theory. After reading each issue, she would say to me “…it seems like Lunella is a Black child adopted into a white home, but this comic shows her as having two Black parents….where is the parents’ outrage and concern?” These were the exact questions I’d asked myself, so it was interesting having them placed back at me proving my theory: it is not possible for two Caucasian writers to understand what it is like to be a female child of African ancestry growing up in America and almost impossible to know what it’s like being that child and being gifted. […] I did not hear Lunella’s authentic voice, but instead the voices of Caucasian Americans telling the world how a child–like me in fact–should sound and act. I could no longer stomach the pretense, so I dropped the title.”
After sending this to Marvel and getting no response, I attempted to forget about this particular series despite the accolades it was receiving as a “groundbreaking” series. Fast forward to New Comic Book Day (#NCBD) on 25 January 2017, when I was at my local comic book shop collecting my weekly pulls. I saw the issue of Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur with a guest appearance by RiRi Williams–another character in which I have reservations. On a whim, I purchased the issue hoping I would once again feel the excitement I felt when the title was first released. Unfortunately, that excitement never found me and I am no longer going to attempt to try to capture it.
Upon getting home and going through the issue, I came across the scene in which Lunella’s mother was doing Lunella’s hair. This act alone is not of much concern; however, it is the fact while doing Lunella’s hair, her mother uttered the following words:
“You need to look respectable, Lunella.”
The impact of those words were immediate, and I had a visceral reaction. The acidity levels in my stomach increased, bile formed and rose to my throat, my heart ached, my eyes watered, and my head started to spin. Not only was the word “respectable” used, it was also placed in bold typeface. Words cannot fully convey the level of shock, horror, and anger I felt at seeing this in a book geared toward young readers.
On the night of Wednesday, 25 January 2017, I took to Twitter to post this question along with a shot of the offending page:
In light of what young Black girls are already going through w/ their hair, is "You need to look 'respectable'…" an appropriate message? pic.twitter.com/okf49J3GDz
— Sistah Geek (@S_Hero4Hire) January 26, 2017
Although I did not receive a reply to my tweet, I was forwarded screenshots of a discussion both Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur writers Amy Reeder and Brandon Montclare had on the issue. The exchange, particularly with Montclare, seemed to be from someone on the defensive who was unwilling to accept the blame; instead, placing it squarely at the feet of the artist. Maybe I am misunderstanding something, but I thought the writers, not the artists, wrote the dialogue.
@MizTeeFranklin And certainly not saying you have to like it or can't find it problematic! But that criticism extends beyond the "writer."
— Brandon Montclare (@bmontclare) January 26, 2017
It is the dialogue, not the art, in which I find offensive. From societal pressures to conform to European standards of beauty and what is deemed “acceptable,” the ongoing debate on “good hair vs bad hair” is damaging to no one but those directly affected by the impact. I know first hand what it is like to have someone else’s perceptions of the “value” and “respectability” of my hair attempt to limit me in what I can and can’t do with my life.
There are numerous reports of young Black girls being suspended from schools because a principal or teacher thought their hair was “messy,” nappy,” “unruly,” or not “respectable.” These types of microaggressions continue into higher education and even into potential employment opportunities. There are some who would say, “All Black mommas say this to their children.” Though I disagree with the use of “all” in this particular instance, I do understand the reasoning behind it. Oftentimes it’s done out of an attempt to protect black children, because we do live in a racist society that will devalue them every chance it gets. Yet, even using this type of phrase, regardless of the good intent behind it, can have a lifelong impact in which a child grows up believing her self-worth is tied into what others think about her hair. That has to stop.
Per the urging of another comrade on Twitter, I reached out directly to Amy Reeder, Brandon Montclare, and the editor on the issue, Mark Paniccia, to ask about the possibility of a change to the language for the trade. Unfortunately, they are not as quick to respond directly to my inquiry. Is it that my follower count is not “respectable?” I find this all pretty sad and disappointing, but not surprising.