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.

 

 

 

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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.