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Halloween night was finally here and I was headed to the party of the year. Our little beat up blue Datsun, which my mother affectionately called the "Blue Duck," made the 15-minute trip from Pasadena’s bungalow haven to a neat little cul-de-sac in Eagle Rock.
This year’s party was being hosted by two of my classmates, brothers Matthew and John. Their house was ideally located at the center of the U-shaped street.
Celebrations were always big and over the top in the Waldorf school community. The parents really went the extra mile to get on the child’s level, which made for amazing birthdays, after-school play dates, slumber parties and holidays.
Rudolf Steiner’s new age curriculum appealed to a post hippie culture of free-thinking parents, which by all accounts all 24 of my schoolmates and I had in common. By the time I was 7, I was a skilled hiker, beeswax candle maker, a fluent recorder player, and not too shabby on crocheting.
While I hadn’t mastered any of the fundamentals of reading or arithmetic, my imagination was impeccable. It’s a wonder that I was able to discover limitations at all in this environment. But that night I did, and it would forever change me.
My mom waited in the car as I ran to the door. I knew early on my mom was different from the other moms. For starters, just she and I lived together.
With the exception of one friend, at that time, all of the other parents were couples living “happily” together raising eccentric little thinkers. My mom was single parenting while grinding her way through the politics of becoming an established studio singer in the 80s. However, at that time, I wasn’t concerned with survival. I just wanted to be like everyone else.
Like most little girls, I was well versed in all things princess. But I never wanted to be one myself. The first character I really identified with was Wonder Woman. I loved that she was smart, beautiful, worked hard, was saving the world, had a kick-ass outfit, a banging theme song, and the most incredible wardrobe change ever. I wanted to be her!
When planning my outfit for the party, it was a no brainer who I would become. I must say that while my mom was no June Cleaver, she outdid herself that year. She snagged a Wonder Woman underwear set with the briefs and a tank top shirt, found gold foil to wrap my Lasso of Truth, cuffs and crown, and even went so far as to prepare my normally puffy ponytails so that they swayed just like Lynda Carter’s locks. Once dressed, I was impressed with the transformation and couldn’t wait for everyone to see it.
As I waited at the door, I could hear feet running as fast as lightening and screeching to a halt as they reached the door. Matthew’s mom accompanied him to the door and greeted me as I stood with great excitement.
Matthew swiped his blond bangs out of his face, giving me a full show of his big green eyes. All right! Looks like Matthew was exercising his imagination and going off script. He was a skeletal Superman, apparently how Superman would look if viewed with his own X-ray vision. This brilliant costume included a glow-in-the-dark skeleton jump suit, with the Superman mask and cape. Possibly I had played it too safe with my Wonder Woman costume; I was pretty exact.
The excitement in my young host’s face left the building as his eyes locked in on me standing there. It was odd because Matthew was my first “boyfriend;” we were always happy to see one another. On the playground we were best buds — on the same page when it came to play, pretend, and crafts. But all of that seemed to be inadequate in this awkward moment.
To be sure, he carefully inquired, “Who are you?”
Are you kidding me? I have all the right accessories, including the red boots, isn’t it obvious?’
The theme song was blaring in my head as I replied, “Wonder Woman.” Duh.
He placed one hand over his head, as he shook it in pitiful disbelief. And then he said it, four words I would never forget, “Wonder Woman isn’t black.”
Have mercy, did he just point out that my costume was inaccurate? Isn’t he a skeleton and Superman? That must violate some kind of costume code.
And wait, what is this black thing? In a school of 24 students, I was the only black person. Now, I knew my skin color was different, my hair texture wasn’t the same, but I never quite knew it was because I was black. Imagine that, all this time I was trying to figure out what made me different, and there it was. Even worse, this black thing prohibited me from being Wonder Woman, even if it was just for Halloween.
I was ashamed and embarrassed because of this new reality that was placed on my shoulders. At some point, as I contemplated my error, I became angry at whoever thought it was OK to unleash this Wonder Woman on the world without guidelines. Didn’t they know that every little girl wanted to be her, and that some of those little girls were black?
I decided right then and there to make an adjustment. Since I could not be Wonder Woman, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and certainly not Snow White because I was black, I would take on the identity of characters that were not restricted by my race. A fairy, nurse or doctor would be OK, but no more of these beloved characters that don’t look like me.
From that day on, I decided to go off script and create my own definition, vision, and reality of a superhero. My power would be vanishing the limitations of my blackness, yes perfect!
Of course I was not able to erase being black or the reality and experiences that come with being black. Instead, the adversities I’ve faced as a result of being black have made me stronger and given me insight to human empathy.
I never told anyone what happened at the party, including my mom. I knew she worked her butt off and I didn’t want her to feel as if she’d let me down. It wasn’t until I watched my 3-year-old son discover the awe and wonder of superheroes and super powers that I was reminded of Matthew’s matter-of-fact observation.
Now, I watch my son play; coloring life outside the lines, breaking all the rules of convention and it thrills my heart. Today, he is Super Batman. He’s wearing his dinosaur house-boots, Superman underwear, and a towel he has turned into a cape, not because he doesn’t have an actual Batman cape, but because he’s creating his own set of superhero rules. POW!!!! BIFF! ZOK! WHAM!!!
He acts out every scene, and all the parts, bad guys included. He is a superhero enthusiasts and I love it.
The sky is the limit when it comes to defining who we are and adhering to limitations is a choice. While I am not Wonder Woman, I am a woman full of wonderful surprises that gave birth to Super Batman. Who happens to be black!
Photography by Myla Twillie All Rights Reserved