Black Mahou Shoujo
The shared themes between Black women in America and Sailor Moon.
A lot of Black girls love Sailor Moon. People in general enjoy the fandom, but Black women seem to have a special bond with the iconic magical girls. A bond shown in the race-bent cosplay, fan art and shops like Adorned by Chi, a Nigerian woman-owned apparel brand clearly inspired by Naoko Takeuchi’s universe. We are not a monolith, but there are several shared experiences that tie Black women together as a group. Through my own connection to Sailor Moon as a Black and Latina woman, I notice many fascinating parallels between our experiences in America and those of the women in the Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon manga. Themes like discovering identity, double consciousness and power in community are prevalent in the Dark Kingdom and Black Moon arcs, and reminiscent of the Black Girl Magic movement.
Let’s begin with an awakening. A talking black cat named Luna awakens our heroine Usagi Tsukino to her true identity as Sailor Moon. As the powerful Sailor Moon, Usagi fights evil forces in the name of love and justice, something she would never consider doing, or even be able to do, without becoming conscious of her identity as Sailor Moon.
This coming of consciousness is also something many Black women experience - although not in the form of a talking cat. Instead, awakening comes from books, family members, elders and communities. Black consciousness develops in different ways, but it’s usually when we become aware of our history, develop Black pride, learn of overt and institutionalized racism, how to survive, resist and (sometimes) rebel against oppression.
Many black women have to take this journey further than the typical Black consciousness teachings because they are often patriarchal and don’t acknowledge, or care about, the unique oppression Black women face. But as they say, “Knowledge is power,” and it is with this knowledge that many Black women are able navigate life with more confidence and power. Much in the same way Usagi’s power is brought on by becoming conscious of her history and identity, Black women can also find their power through knowledge and awareness.
But sometimes, knowledge can be painful as well. One of the most powerful magical artifacts in the Sailor Moon universe, the Legendary Silver Crystal, was created from Usagi’s tear during a moment of incredible pain and love. Usagi’s love, Mamoru Chiba/Tuxedo Mask, was killed during a battle. As she holds his lifeless body in her arms, she’s flooded with memories that were previously unknown to her. Visions of her past life as Princess Serenity and Mamoru’s as her lover Prince Endymion. But sadly, she also recalls that even in this previous life Prince Endymion was murdered. It’s from that love, pain and realization of her true identity that an object of immeasurable power is created, an object with the ability to heal everything that its light touched. Similar themes can be seen in the coming of consciousness and empowerment of Black women in America. The pain we experience by learning the ways white supremacy and patriarchy oppressed us in the past and continue to do so in present. The discovery, or reshaping, of our sense of self as we learn more about our culture. And the love we give and receive in our nurturing communities.
The introduction of this new understanding can be initially, or permanently, distressing and often develops into double lives. In “The Souls of Black Folks” W. E. B. Du Bois wrote about the pain that comes with this double life and heightened consciousness:
From the double life every American Negro must live, as a Negro and as an American, as swept on by the current of the nineteenth while yet struggling in the eddies of the fifteenth century, — from this must arise a painful self-consciousness, an almost morbid sense of personality and a moral hesitancy which is fatal to self-confidence.
Living two lives is a challenge for all of the Guardians in Sailor Moon. In one life, they are regular students with families, friends and exams. In their other life, they are risking their lives to protect Tokyo and Earth.
The challenges that come with living two lives is something many black folks are well aware of. Some of us talk and act differently when we’re around white folks. We code switch. We fear that acting “too Black” around them can perpetuate stereotypes, provoke discrimination or worse. So sometimes, we suppress who we are in order to survive; just as the Sailor Guardians must conceal their identity to keep themselves and their families safe.
Despite being the most powerful, Sailor Moon wouldn’t get nearly as far, or even succeed, without the support, love and magic of Ami Mizuno/Sailor Mercury, Rei Hino/Sailor Mars, Makoto Kino/Sailor Jupiter and Minako Aino/Sailor Venus. This is demonstrated in the countless ways they protect each other physically as warriors, and care for each other emotionally as friends. The necessary interdependence of the Guardians conjures the words of Black lesbian poet and feminist writer Audre Lorde. In her essay “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House” Lorde writes:
For women, the need and desire to nurture each other is not pathological but redemptive, and it is within that knowledge that our real power is rediscovered. It is this real connection which is so feared by the patriarchal world… Without community there is no liberation… But community must not mean a shedding of our differences, nor the pathetic pretense that these differences do not exist… In our world, divide and conquer must become define and empower.
Lorde’s powerful words not only evokes the supportive power within the countless sister circles of Black women, but it is also a rallying cry for intersectional feminism.
The love and support seen in the iconic Magical Girls can also be seen in the Black Girl Magic movement, created by CaShawn Thompson in 2013. The purpose of this movement is to combat misogynoir by celebrating positive messages and images of Black women. When it comes to the “Magic” aspect of the term, Thompson told the LA Times, “I say ‘magic’ because it’s something that people don’t always understand. Sometimes our accomplishments might seem to come out of thin air, because a lot of times, the only people supporting us are other black women.” It is because of our collective magic that we are able to grow stronger and face and fight the oppressive forces in our daily lives.
Black Mahou Shoujo is a concept born from the connections of the iconic mahou shoujo manga, Sailor Moon and the common experience many Black women face in America. An idea that I hope can help Black women navigate and fight racism and sexism. A belief that promotes the power that comes with Black consciousness, resilience, resistance, interdependent communities and magic.
Find the magic inside of you and use it to heal, fight and bring light. It feels right to close with lyrics from “Interlude: I Got So Much Magic, You Can Have It” by Solange Knowles, the musical form of the healing attack “Moon Healing Escalation”.
You did it from the get go, get go
Let's go, let's go, let's go look for magic, yeah
They not gon' get it from the get go, get go, get go, get go
Don't let, don't let, don't let anybody steal your magic, yeah
But I got so much y'all
You can have it