A Warrior Of Black and White

Black and white. Adopted. Food enthusiast. Could Po and I have more in common? Oh yeah-martial arts! It was recently brought to my attention that I have failed to mention that I am a first degree black belt in Kuk Sool Won, a Korean martial art that intertwines physical techniques with mental and spiritual development. I have been out of practice for some years, but don’t get it twisted-I still got it! 

He is the panda reflection of myself, a warrior of black and white.

One element of the first movie was how there was no mention of how a panda came to be the son of a swan goose. I appreciated the mystery that surrounded that story and the inevitable truth behind it. I recall infinite moments under the questioning glare of one who has just come to the realization that those really are my parents, both of them. “Did one of your parents remarry?” To which I would answer in the negative, undoubtedly leaving the investigator questioning my mother’s fidelity.

In Kung Fu Panda 2, the mystery is solved when Po and Mr. Ping have a conversation 30 years in the making and it is revealed that Po is adopted. Gasp! I remember having this conversation with my own parents. “Mommy, was I adopted?” To which she responded, “Go ask your daddy.” I was about a tenth of Po’s age and I had just watched a Lifetime movie about adoption. I would encourage every parent looking to have “the talk” with their child to watch this film with them. Sometimes, a movie or a book can explain ideas in a way that our poor, uncreative and emotionally clouded minds cannot. My father (and mother) did have that initially uncomfortable conversation with me and I am appreciative of their honesty. I cannot imagine having found out as an adult that such an important piece of my history was neglected. It’s tantamount to lectures on cotton picking negating slavery, or textbooks dismissing the Native American experience in US history courses.

SN: Isn’t it interesting how the talk can vary from family to family. To most that refers to the birds and the bees, to some a conversation about some hereditary disease, and yet to others a deep, dark family secret about how your great-great-great grandfather was Jack the Ripper!

Armed with this new information, Po sets out to find from where he came. It is as important for people to know from where they came as it is to know where they are and where they are headed; however, how your life begins does not dictate your present nor your future (as frequently told in the animated feature). When I set sail, via the internet not the sea, to unearth my parentage I just needed information. Being adopted is like having a puzzle completed and missing one little piece that you can’t find anywhere; you search under the bed, between the sofa cushions, you even try ordering it online but it cannot be found. You can go on living a successful and happy life without the completed picture, but it’s freaking annoying! I was extremely blessed in my search, unlike our Dragon Warrior. I connected with my biological mother and father, a step-mother, a step-father, two grandmothers, a grandfather, four sisters, four brothers, four nieces, three nephews, two brothers-in-law and one neph-dog (these in addition to the three brothers, three nieces, four nephews and one sister-in-law I already owned).

I won’t spoil anymore of the film for those who may be intrigued by the story line and I encourage everyone, adopted or not, to go. There are concepts of identity, acceptance and loyalty that supersede animation and 3D glasses and convey as plain ol’ truth. I’d love to hear your thoughts. In the meantime, I’m dusting off the old nunchucks…”Kiyahhhhh!”

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A Not-So Different World From Mine

I’m Alex and I’m eight, I like to fish, swim and skate.

This poem invaded my slumber around 6:18am and prevented further commitment to the captivity of my bed. My entire body ached through stretches and I baffled through thoughts of how I managed to sleep in the fetal position. I wonder now if my posture was somehow related to the dream.

If ever I had to characterize my life by a sit-com, without intellectual effort, it would be A Different World. I won’t dare insult your literacy ability by describing the show but in case you haven’t read my blog enough to know how it relates to my life (I can imagine my close friends laughing right now, let me fill you in).

The show is a spin-off from The Cosby Show, when the Huxtables’ daughter, Denise goes off to Hillman College. HC was a fictional HBCU. I like most black teens, sitting in front of the television on Thursday nights, couldn’t wait to make my own memories at a historically black college or university. From my own educational experience, I can attest to the fact that college is a new world, but a HBCU is a totally different one.

In season 1, Denise, played by Lisa Bonet, serves as the lead character. In following seasons, this honor is given to Whitley, played by Jasmine Guy. Both ladies are of mixed ancestry, although their fictional characters are not. In season 2, Freddie, played by Cree Summer, enrolls as the shows only mulatto character.

Stevie, played by Loretta Divine and Lettie, played by Mary Alice worked at Hillman College as dorm directors in Gilbert Hall. Having served as a residential manager myself, I am currently the Director of Residence Life at Shaw University. Like Stevie, I am also a single mother. I do not however, live in the residence halls (at least, I don’t receive personal mail there).

Then there’s Professor Randolph played by Roger Guenveur Smith, (who was the keynote address at my college graduation) and the poem that shook me out of my slumber. Actually, it was a dream; I dreamt about an episode of the sitcom that was prewritten as a biography of my life.  Blues For Nobody’s Child (season 4, episode 72) is about Alex, a foster child and his hope to be adopted at the adoption fair. Freddie’s passion for Alex touches Professor Randolph and he and his wife adopt the little boy. I too was a chosen child. Although my story doesn’t include orphanages, foster care or fairs, I was adopted.

What show or movie best describes your life? Survivor? The Princess and the Frog? Shameless? The Real Housewives of (Insert Current City Here)? In the series finale of A Different World, everyone turned out successful, happy and in love.

I don’t mind that in my bio at all.

“What’s up with u and all this biracial stuff?”

Dear Reader,

It’s been almost a month since I posted. Even now this feels contrived. I want to close this screen and return to my studies. My studies of myself.

If we are Facebook friends you may have noticed a recent change in my status postings. I often share articles about biracial/multiracial experiences. One of my favorite cousins asked in response to one of these articles “What’s up with u and all this biracial stuff?” I often ask myself what is up with this ‘stuff’?

Where did this stuff come from? Where has this stuff been the last 32 years? How did I not know about this stuff? Why didn’t I know that being biracial was a definition, a description and that I didn’t have to be black or white, that I could be black and white? Why did I think I had to pick? Wait. I didn’t have a choice at all. My birth certificate reads ‘black’. 

My mother admits that she didn’t know I could have been both and I understand. I can’t imagine being a black woman married to a black man and saying “My daughter is biracial.” That would mean one of two things: somebody cheated or somebody lied. I remember the stares she would receive when she announced quite proudly that I belong to her while in the grocery store. I recall whispers from onlookers when I tugged at her coat tail and called her “Mommy.”

I don’t believe my birth mother knew I could choose to be both either. She probably thought I would have to black in a nation where the one drop rule was the only rule and in a state where diversity was based on the color of your hair more than your skin, I’m sure she was terrified at the thought of my life with her. I imagine those same winces and whispers in the grocery store at her being called “Mommy” by a mudblood.

My imagination runs wild these days fueled by the pages Senna, Larsen and Cross. In every character I bear witness to who I was, who I am, who I am becoming. With each description, emotion, question of identity I see myself through the eyes of writers who I have never met yet they tell my story. The manicurist’s solutions enrage paper cuts, reminders of scenes too good to turn slowly. I have found myself in a new world and yet an old one, my old one.

I am amused in remembering that for many years, I believed that tracing my biological roots would give me the answers to my identity but now I understand that I looked at those answers every day.

Shannon

Giving It Up

I am giving it up. Actually, I gave it up. Thursday in my office, from behind my desk, around 1:45pm, I gave it up. It was extremely hard but in the end it was just as good as if I had done it myself.

I don’t know where this need to control came from. Maybe it’s innate. Maybe it was birthed through fear. Maybe it is rooted in instances where I had none. Maybe it’s a reflection of abandonment issues that compliment adoption.

When the pounding in my head would not allow me to lead the presentation, I handed it over. Almost immediately, the headache ceased, either from the Excedrin Migraine I had popped twenty minutes before or from the relief in letting someone else take control. I was able to relax, a little, but the idea that my expectations would not be met in the delivery of the information lingered. Expectations breed disappointments, or so they say but lack of expectations do too.

Today and I learned that not only is it ok to delegate tasks but that often times, the candidate succeeds. And if they don’t, so what…assess the outcome, explore alternatives and move on. We are so determined to have control that we exhaust ourselves and provide a disservice to our subordinates by denying them the opportunity to shine.

So I gave it up and in giving it up I gained something…peace.

But there is another side to the control coin. Sometimes, we don’t give it up…we lose it. In these instances, there is no peace there is only pain. I can recall several occasions where I lost control and my words or actions had consequences that I was not prepared to accept.

From behind that same desk, on that same day, I lost control in a conversation with a friend. I allowed emotions derived from miscommunication and holding things in to consume me and made accusations that I truthfully didn’t believe.  In losing control, we unwillingly give power over ourselves to someone else. I’ve spent countless nights in torment over allowing someone else to take control of me and in those moments I replayed the event over and over trying to figure out  the how, when, why, where, what and who. There is no tranquility in losing control as there is in voluntarily giving it up.

Control is like money, power, sanity, love, freedom, and friendship in that I’d rather give it up than lose it any day.

Color Theory

Today I became a dog lover.

I do not love all dogs, just one…Poet. Today, the fourteen month, sixteen pound schnoodle and I connected on a very deep level.

Let me begin by sharing our history together. About a year ago, my sons began asking for a puppy. After a visit with my sister, they began asking specifically for a schnoodle (shout out to Grady, my nephdog). I was not fond of this idea but thought it an excellent way to teach them some responsibility and award them for good behavior. We got the puppy. I was not particularly fond of him. Over the last year he ate my dining room chairs, funked up my sofa, shredded roll after roll of toilet paper, soiled my carpet…the list goes on and on. I tolerated him because my sons loved him.

Everything changed today.

Poet needed grooming. His hair had gotten so tangled that the salon recommended a buzz cut. I agreed. “He’s a gorgeous little mixed baby. I love how he has schnauzer hair on top and poodle hair on the bottom.” The ladies went on and on over his array of hues: red, gold, grey, tan.

Genetics is funny. His mother was white. His father was black. He was adopted. My third child is a canine reflection of myself.

It took over four hours to file his nails, clean his ears, cut his curls and flush his anal glands (uhmmm, yeah).  When I walked into the pet store, the groomer shouted “Poet’s mommy is here.” I smiled. I felt that same sense of pride I feel when I walk into the classroom of one of my human sons and all the kids get excited and whisper “That’s Ms. Bennett.” He was overly excited to see me. He had no idea that before today, I was never overly excited to see him.

On the ride home, I remembered a time in high school where a boy and girl were paired as a couple and required to “raise” a baby together for a week. My partner was white and we thought it would be clever to use a grey stocking to create our baby (the teacher didn’t get it). We, like all other kids were taught that black plus white equaled grey. We were misinformed.

Sometimes black plus white equal red and gold and grey and tan or as I like to call myself, soft honey. Your color can’t define you any more than the texture of your hair… be you canine or human.