Why Stereotypes, In Moderation, May Be Good

I take the boys with me to go vote at Chavis Community Center, in the heart of Southeast Raleigh. We get to the volunteer and she asks for my name ‘Shannon P Bennett’ i say. ‘What’s the middle name dear?’ she asks. I state it. My 5 year-old who thinks he is Bernie Mac reincarnated says ‘P as in Palin’ loud enough for everyone to hear. I begin to turn red. ‘No it’s not, it’s Palmer’ I say pushing him behind me; but the little critter scoots around and gets right in the lady’s face ‘It’s Palin and she’s from Alaska!’ I thump him in the head and by now EVERYONE is staring at me. I get the paper, sign my name and try to rush off when this little booger shouts out, fist raised and in the air ‘Go McCain’! If you could have seen the faces of the voters….OMG….if looks could kill! How do you explain to a room full of people who have just left the Obama rally that not only are you an Obama supporter but that your beautiful baby boy is a comedian?!

I posted the above story as a note on my Facebook page on October 30, 2008. It is a true account of my voting experience and as real a depiction of my son’s comedic abilities as one could make. In telling the story, I made an assumption on that day that my biological family in Wasilla, Alaska were all Palin supporters based on my stereotypes of them (my bios, the Palins and Wasilla); a stereotype my bio-mom was happy to dispel.

Why would you think that! I’m for Obama! There aren’t many of us up here but I’m definitely one of them!

Since that conversation and in getting to know my Alaska relatives, I’ve been very conscious of my assumptions. I try to be very open-minded and look at the world through a wide lens as opposed to a narrow one, after all, my entire life is one big stereotype. Of course experiences birth preconceptions that are often impenetrable, add to that the horror stories of others, insatiable media coverage and an overactive imagination and well…

I rarely leave my home after dark but when your son has a fever and you’re out of the ibuprofen-acetaminophen rotating cocktails-duty calls.Leaving in the middle of an episode of Dateline where a home invasion threatened the lives of a mother and her two sons didn’t exactly aid my fears; and if that weren’t enough, I had just read an article about a student at Morgan State University who dined on the internal organs of the roommate he murdered. Needless to say, I was on edge.

As I was pulling into the Wal-Mart shopping center, a woman carrying several bags slipped and introduced her rear end to the pavement in a slow motion crash. It was nothing to laugh at as she staggered to a stand and then fell again. Finally she steadied herself and attempted to shake off the mud and humiliation of her fall(s). She succeeded at neither. I pulled over and helped her pick up the scattered groceries and noticing the blood soaking through the knees of her pants, I offered her a ride home.

As she buckled her seat belt the severity of my sincerity overshadowed my genuine concern as I visualized her grabbing the razors from her bag and slicing me to pieces. My mind began to race and my face flushed crimson. When she leaned over on the arm rest I froze as I imagined her stripping me of my clothing and gnawing at my flesh. I didn’t hear a word she said over the sound of my beating heart and heavy breathing. I feared this woman who walked to Wal-Mart at night in the rain for razors and cheese spread with the thick stench of cigarettes in her hair and coffee on her breath. Infinite scenes from movies about hitchhikers and images from news reports filled clouded my thoughts as I whispered a prayer and reprimanded myself in the same sentence.

When we arrived at her home nearly ninety seconds later, she thanked me three times before hopping out of my vehicle and freeing me from fears grip.

I still cannot believe this happened. I’m just so embarrassed and I wasn’t even drunk!

Well, when you tell this story maybe you should say you were.

Oh no! I can’t do that, I just got out of prison and this is a halfway house.

And with that she slammed the door and limped off.

Stereotypes, in moderation, aren’t always a bad thing…

Spare the Rod…At Least In Public?

I can recall several times when seemingly poor parenting skills caused an irate mother to openly and loudly scold her child in a public place. There was the blonde, middle-aged woman in Wal-Mart in Texas who was accosted by store security after her episode. Then there was the young, African-American mother in Maryland in the shoe store whose language made me, a grown woman, blush. Oh and I dare not forget the mother of three little girls who caused a riot in my favorite North Carolina Target store when an onlooker reprimanded her for her exaggerated instruction.

Seemingly poor parenting.

I cannot recall ever having such episodes. I remember chastising my God-son for stealing a band-aid around age four or for speaking disrespectfully to me around age six but even that was discreet and contained. I cannot recall a time when I jumped outside of my introverted self to discipline my sons in an extroverted manner and chance public scrutiny.

That is until yesterday when I became a victim of seemingly poor parenting.

My sons and I, along with my mother, were enjoying one of our favorite pastimes and strolling through the flea market aisles. I was gawking over Nehi peach sodas (which are not on my current diet but reminded me of my childhood days in Tuskegee, Alabama) as my mother reminisced over the “penny candy” section (which coincidentally no longer cost a penny). My sons were joking and laughing as tweens do when I noticed the younger holding what appeared to be a bag of candy under his shirt.

In a speed that would shame light, my arm reached across the row of peanut butter bars and chick o sticks and pulled him into me by the collar of his shirt as he held up his hands in defense and to show me that no crime had been committed. Fear held my voice hostage as I thought of young black boys shot and killed out of mere suspicion. Fear paralyzed my legs as I remembered young black boys murdered for walking down streets and whistling…or not. Fear held my hands hostage as I remembered young black boys whose hands were bound by silver bracelets and whose minds remain in iron shackles.

I choked the life out of his threads as my voice escaped and fear unleashed itself.

I became a seemingly poor parent, yelling at my child in front of strangers. Strangers who would have thought I was a poor parent if I had yelled or if he had stolen. Strangers who would have whispered about my lack of ability to control my children or control myself. Either way, I am a seemingly poor parent. Stares scorched my back as my mother and first-born stood by watching and fearing; my mother for my truth, my son for his brother.

When my voice escaped, unrecognizable and shaking, I reminded my son about Trayvon Martin, Emmit Till and Brian Banks and how close he is to becoming a statistic, a case, a victim, a point of reference every time he seemingly does something wrong.

Seemingly poor parenting became a fight for survival and I care not what anyone else thought in that moment, only that my son understood the severity of his actions and the sincerity in mine.

Tonight I’ll pray an extra long prayer for the mothers and fathers fighting to save their sons even through seemingly poor parenting and I’ll reward myself with a few extra mary janes because I refuse to let myself or my sons become a statistic, a case, a victim or a point of reference no matter how hard I have to fight or how crazy I appear to be. I am not a seemingly good mother…

I am.

 

 

 

The Absence of Diversity at Historically Black Colleges

“Do you think you could work with…White people?”

I halt in complete shock. I am stunned by the words that fall off her lips as her hands sway in gesture over the excitement of the phone interview she has just concluded. I assume my look reveals my disgust as she quickly clarifies the statement…er…question.

“That’s not exactly what she said, I’m paraphrasing.”

I understand what the interviewer is asking my friend. She is concerned whether or not this young Black female, graduate of a Historically Black University and employee of a Historically Black College can handle the other side…because of course there are only two sides to the color coin. I digress. Her inquest is not completely far-fetched. Many assume that diversity is an obscure concept among institutions such as the ones listed on my friend’s curriculum vitae.

Diversity: difference, variety, unlikeness, diverse, multiformity, not identical, variance, distinction, heterogeneity, assortment.

You know what’s missing in the thesaurus entry?

Color.

Shockingly, most people consider diversity to be an assortment of color and even more commonly, the duality of two. Even more shocking is the revelation that diversity is not simply a Black and White person sitting side by side in a classroom; maybe on its most elementary level that definition reigns true. Yet we evolve, or at least so I thought.

I’m appalled that my friend was asked if she could work with White people. I imagine her walking around on her first day at this PWI (predominately white institution) whispering “I see White people” in her Haley Joel Osment voice.

Diversity is as prevalent among HBCU’s as it is PWI’s. As prevalent but not as palpable. I’m sure this is of moot point to my well-educated subscribers but for my amusement I’ll continue…the difference in diversity among the two institutions is that you can visibly see it on the campus of PWI’s because we innately define diversity as color.

However, diversity is much more evolved on a typical college campus. There is an assortment of socioeconomic classes; at any given moment I may have a homeless student sitting in my office next to a student whose parents have seven degrees between them. There is a variance in demographic location; if you think there isn’t much diversity among a student from Washington, D.C. and one from Washington, N.C. I urge you to spend an afternoon with me. There is heterogeneity in sexuality; diversity is strategically planning where to place on campus residents who are transgender. There is generational variety; Saturday I witnessed a mother and daughter celebrating their receipt of identical Bachelor’s degrees.

Of course all of these scenarios challenge the realm of diversity at any university; however, the difficulty at the historically black university is that few people admit that diversity exists, not even those employed by the institutions themselves. Diversity is this abstract concept that only plagues institutions of majority enrollment and therefore students at historically black colleges are placed in a box of identical chocolates (no pun intended).

Sigh.

Tell her you have had the ultimate training in diversity as you have labored in a vineyard where all of the skin of the fruit looks the same on the outside but the inner flesh is varies in taste and texture. Tell her that while your experiences may seem one-sided, they are filled with successful student development, leadership and advisement which are characteristics that bear no color.

During my evening walk, I simmered on the conversation between the applicant and the manager and I wondered if the roles were reversed would my friend have asked the same question. I wondered what my response would have been and although sarcasm is the lowest form of wit, a smile forms at my response…

“Oh my goodness, you have White people?!”

There never were in the world two opinions alike, no more than two hairs or two grains; the most universal quality is diversity. -Michel de Montaigne

Pickaninny…”Souvenir of the South”

When asked about the little black girl carrying the rag doll, I always refer to her as a mammy doll. I smile at her as she shows rows of bright white teeth and boasts bright red bows at the end of several wiry plats. I smile at my possession of her, but her possession is nothing to smile about and then again it is.

She is not a mammy and I know why I call her so. It is easier to call her that than to refer to her as she really is. It is easier to ignore the reality. Similarly to how for many years, I ignored the reality of my ancestry. Easy. It’s easier to say “I’m Black.” It’s easier to “check one”. Mammy sounds like mommy and mommy is easy.

She is a pickaninny.

The word itself makes a tad bit of vomit emerge at the back of my throat (what my children refer to as baby barf). Pickaninny. Little nigger. It reminds me of “picnic”, a word that is rumored to originate from slave lynchings when Whites would “pick a nigger” and hang him or her during community gatherings. By the way, snopes.com and urbanlegends.com both deny any truth in the derogatory root of the word.

In truth, I despise the description of Rosie because I have used the word before. I was about eight when after five or six elementary taunts of “white girl” I shouted back at my tormentor. “PICKANINNY!”

Swings stopped swinging. Hula-hoops stopped spinning. Jump ropes stopped turning. Balls stopped bouncing. Time stood still on the playground of Lewis Adams Elementary School in Tuskegee, Alabama. Then with eyes as big as Rosie’s, she whispered with a broken voice louder than I had shouted, “You’re a racist.”

I don’t remember when I first saw Rosie among the tributes to our nation’s racial history and confederate divide. She was fed by cookies from the bellies of mammy dolls and comforted with watermelon slices from her brothers. She lived in the big house on the plantation. She was happy. She was smiling. I was furious.

I understood what she was and what she meant at eight and eight years later. I had felt the pain of calling her name and being called her name. I had felt the confusion in her truth and in that of my own.

Today, she sits on my bookshelf as a testament to evolution. The owners who once found pride in displaying her have evolved in their recognition of her representation as much as the young girl who found shame in her display has evolved in her comprehension of her significance.

We evolve.

Last week, while sifting through flea market wagons full of hidden treasures and obvious trash, I found the sign.

COLORED WAITING ROOM

Above the sign I found the pickaninny eating a slice of watermelon.

SOUVENIR OF THE SOUTH

We evolve.

I thought taking a picture of the artifacts was enough but for six days, the images haunted me. Rosie called out to me to remember her brother. She is lonely in 2012 and longs for her past. She misses mammy.

One night I dreamt that I was at the doctor’s office waiting to be called back and after an hour I asked the receptionist had I been forgotten. She scowled “We called you three times. We thought you were in the White waiting room. We didn’t know you were Colored.”

Today, I returned to the flea market where I found the pieces of history and without hesitation paid the $20 the vendor asked. Rosie seems to smile a bit brighter among them and I think I do too.

Excuses. Excuses. Excuses.

I should probably begin with an apology, a sincere ‘I’m sorry’ for my 168 day absence. I could charge it to life, work, school, forgetting my wordpress.com username and password but I won’t make excuses. Actually, there is no excuse for neglecting yourself.

Mulattotude.com is myself. I mean is me. See what absence has done to me?!

I wish I could tell you I was on a remote island studying its aboriginal inhabitants as they worshipped my every move and offered me sacrifices of mango, papaya and coconut martinis in exchange for nuggets of intellectual inspiration.

Fictional sabbatical aside, I’m very sorry for neglecting mulattotude.com, I am more sorry for neglecting myself.

Today I witnessed something that brought me back to myself.

While shopping in my favorite store, I noticed a young white male peering between a rack of sweaters at an unknown target. I tried to ignore crouching tiger, hidden dragon but my curiosity got the best of me so I knelt down beside him.

What are you looking at?

Those kids.

He was referring to the two black males between ten and eleven hovered over the jewelry counter.

Why don’t you just prevent them from getting in trouble and tell them you’re watching them followed by a lecture on the penalties of theft?

I’m just doing my job, ma’am.

Void of your humanity?

This isn’t their first time but we haven’t been able to catch them. You don’t know the whole story.

Ok. Well you have a Merry Christmas.

I contemplated walking over to the young men and demanding that they empty their pockets, apologize to the store and then escort them out with a handful of ear from each of them while admonishing their behavior. I envisioned explaining what they had done to their mother who burst into tears over the loss of their innocence as she dropped to her knees in prayer over their souls.

But I continued shopping, caught in a Catch 22. Surely they needed to learn a lesson, I just wasn’t sure Target’s loss prevention specialist was the one to do it.

I heard the security alarm sound as I proceeded to checkout and rounded the corner just in time to see the snooper marching the boys to a rear office.

9 years old, 2 years shy of the hair dryer debacle

I thought about my own experience with theft. When I was eleven, I abducted a hair dryer. Years later, my mother attributed my acting out to my way of screaming in silence. That’s what little girls do when they carry secrets. Even more years later, I attribute it to just wanting straight hair. Yes, sometimes things are just that simple. But for a biracial girl with dry, nappy, curls-hair is anything but simple.

I wonder what secrets those little boys are carrying. Did they just want a Christmas gift to put under the tree for their mother? Did their mother put them up to it? Or was it just stealing, plain and simple?

20,000 Miles Above & Men Below

For the brother headed to Indianapolis, Indiana for the Kappa Conclave and the one who isn’t…

I love the men of Kappa Alpha Psi; I was bred to, predestined to. My father is a member of the crimson and cream so is my friend boy, and a host of pretend uncles, play-play cousins and friends. While other daddy’s girls were being lulled to sleep with songs of looking-glass and diamond rings, my father was serenading me with Kappa Alpha Psi Sweetheart.

The institution of black Greek organizations embodies a spirit that cannot be described, only experienced and as an outsider, I cannot adequately depict what it means to bear those letters. I considered “pledging” once but if you’ve ever read my blog and you know anything about the process, you know that wouldn’t have gone over too well. I actually went to an interest meeting, in which a prime candidate said

If I were an instrument, I would be a harp so I could play melodious music for all the angels.

It wasn’t so much what she said but how she said it. She spoke in soprano and made movements with her hands as if she were actually young David playing for King Saul. She floated or at least gave the illusion of such. She curtseyed at the end of her answer and the crowd erupted in cheers of jubilation while shouting “Good Answer!” Nothing against her or her answer, she was a lovely girl and I was quite fond of her but this just wasn’t for me; a suspicion that was later confirmed when during a poem recital women with tattoos, dependents and excess weight were politely invited to turn their attention elsewhere.

I’m not big on exclusion.

Kappa Alpha Psi member, Wilt Chamberlain

The men of Kappa Alpha Psi are celebrating 100 years of unity which brought this particular kappa to RDU this morning. I saw him in security in his paraphernalia and knew exactly where he was headed, but flights are funny and where you’re going has nothing to do with how you get there. So there we sat, side by side in Row 13 on a Delta flight.

Let me interject and say that as much as I appreciate the Kappa man, in no way was I headed to partake in a weekend of debauchery where women are sure to be outnumbered by an astronomical amount because 20,000 Nupes have taken over the city.

From the moment I inhaled his overindulgence in cheap cologne and saw his lack of chivalry in neglecting to lift my carry on into the overhead compartment, I knew he was cut from a different Kappa cloth than my father.

When dude finally stopped talking about his membership in the “red and white” and how much fun he was about to have in Indianapolis, he asked what I did. Our conversation led to this blog. He too was a blogger.

You should check out my site mulattotude dot com (insert seven second presentation here where I describe my rants on all things related to mixed race and life).

Now maybe the mulattotude confused him, but surely he heard the mulatto in there somewhere. And we weren’t on the phone so, he could see me and one would think that an educated brother such as he would conclude by the kinky, curly hair and light skin…maybe she’s mulatto. Or maybe he didn’t know what the word meant, at which point he should have either asked or just shut it up. Although that shouldn’t even be an option because I gave him the pitch, deductive reasoning could have concluded of what I spoke. Low and behold, the next thing to fall out of his mouth was…

Why brothers always gotta be running to white women anyway?

Lawdhamercyonhisoul. He began in a soliloquy about the perils of interracial dating and how sisters were abundant and blessed and how he was about to abundantly bless as many as he could this weekend. I started reaching for my iPod (airplane code for I am not available for conversation). I was content to not speak to him anymore but he paused, looked me in the eye for the first time and asked me again.

What do you think? Why do black men date white women?

So they can have mulatto babies.

And on that note, I put Adele in my ear and tuned him out for the rest of the flight.

Wanna hear my answer to the instrument question…email me at palmerbennett@mulattotude.com.

By-Products of Segregation, Integration and Pasteurization

My mother & I hang out by the pool.

My mother and I just returned from a ten-day journey together. If you’re an introvert pretending to be an extrovert like me, you can understand the sheer horror in spending ten days with anyone other than the one who shares your fingerprint profile.

The issue of race came up quite often during our conversation. She wants me to recognize that she is a product of segregation. I want her to recognize that I am a product of integration. Our personal experiences provide two very different points of view. She is frustrated. I am silent. We agree to disagree on most things related to race and the perception thereof.

Our travels took me to Texas. Abilene. ACU, where I was scheduled to attend a week of classes as part of a distance learning program. Our travels took my mother back to the school that grudgingly admitted her, one she left after a grueling and oppressive semester.

It’s kinda poetic. The unfulfilled prophecy of the militant, black, coed is fulfilled through her biracial daughter.

The story reads like a script.

But this is not the same Abilene Christian University. My favorite professor is half of an interracial marriage and we converse about diversity, multiculturalism and biraciality. My mother’s dear friend, another professor is an advocate of equity and inclusion and we converse about my role as a minority woman making moves in higher education. There are signs of progression all around and I am comfortable here, as comfortable as I am at my alma mater, a historically black university; maybe even more so.

This feeling saddens and confuses me because questions of my professional purpose rise and fall like turbulence over the southeast.

When we return home, exhausted and dehydrated from over a week of 100 degree weather, I reach for the pitcher of cold water on the second shelf and accidentally knock the gallon onto the floor. Standing in the sea of milk, I crack and the emotion of the week, what I have learned and where I go from here overwhelms me. By the time I have dried the mess, my eyes are also dry and the empty jug in the recycling bin catches my attention.

June 22, 2011.

Sitting on the stairs at Jacob's Dream

There is no sense in crying over spilled milk, especially when it was sour.

I’ve got some sour milk in my life. There are circumstances and situations that have long since expired. There are also a few expiration dates that are approaching. Like July 15, 2011, on which my 32nd year of life will expire. Some dates are not as exact but the time has passed for me to pour some things out.

I’m not crying over spilled milk. In fact, I’m looking through the refrigerator to see what else needs to be tossed. Then I’m gonna clean out the refrigerator and make room for some new, fresh, wholesome goodies. Please don’t mistaken this as a profession of “dieting”, it’s a metaphor for my life, specifically…my career.

Sometimes our milk is the circumstances of our past and the experiences in our history, and they too need to be spilled because they spoil the circumstances of our future and the experiences of our present.

By the end of our adventure, a crazy hotel manager, a flat tire and misread paperwork united us in our frustration over the spilled milk but the joy in “swimming” together for the first time, finding that special bargain and landing at home safely allowed us to keep from being soured by our ordeals.