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.

Advertisements

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.

Ooo Ooo Ooo Ooo Ooooo I Got A Mulattotude

Dress by Fab'rik. Photo by JElite Photography

I am not a fan of Miss Patti Labelle. Staring at your computer screen with big, bugged out eyes will not change that fact. I’ll wait while you get yourself together from the shock of my revelation. It’s true. I’m not. I find nothing pleasurable in all of the hooping and hollering, rolling around on the ground screaming and screeching like you aint got an ounce of sense.

She gets on my nerves.

But…there’s something about New Attitude that’s got my hips swinging and lips singing here lately. “Ooo Ooo Ooo Ooo Ooooo I got a mulattotude!” That’s right! I got a new attitude and it’s all because of my mulattotude. Have you ever experienced the freedom the comes in finding yourself, your sanity, your purpose, your authenticity? I am there.

My new attitude needed a new look.

  1. In search of fresh wardrobing, singular not plural because I ain’t quite got it like that, I happened upon Fab’rik of Raleigh where Kelsey was phenomenal in finding the perfect reflection of my colorful personality.
  2. On to hair and make up with Flawless Faces of Alnita of the Tim Johnson Salon because runway diva extraordinaire and BFF, Tekora Scruggs insisted that she was

    Make up by Flawless Faces by Alnita, Photography by J.Elite

    the go-to artist for print designs. She is a facial genius!

  3. Finally, I made my way to my professional photo shoot with Jamal and Carmela of J.Elite Photography. I was prepared to be impressed, but not amazed. They were so good that I scheduled a non-traditional family photo shoot a week later.

Kelsey, Alnita, Jamal and Carmela turned this pumpkin into a crystal carriage and when midnight struck, I was still glowing from my new look and new attitude. If you’re considering making a memory, putting your best face forward or dressing to impress, let my supreme team make you over and tell ’em a very happy customer sent ya!

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!”

Black Sister, White Sister

I recently devoured Caucasia by Danzy Senna and all of its biracial glory. As best reviewed in Soul Mates by Elizabeth Schmidt (no reference to a previous post entitled Sole Mates and Soul Mates), the work is about the maturation of mulatto Birdie Lee and her ability to identify with herself and within familial relationships.

The book follows the young woman throughout childhood and into adolescence and with each turn of the page I see myself in her experiences. Her rare, rebellious, red-headed white mother is the dead on description of my birth mother. Her black father’s lifelong search for his personal connectedness is symbolic of my birth father. However, I am most intrigued by her relationship with her sister.

I am infatuated with the bond between sisters, a union of which I do not quite understand. It was not until three years ago that I even learned that I had a sister, a few sisters (but for the sake of this post I will focus on two). While Birdie Lee had a sister who was both black and white, I have a sister who is black and one who is white.

I smiled at the thought of writing that last sentence.

Let me tell you a bit about my sisters. One is a wife and super mom, in every sense of the phrase, and if ever a ‘S’ was tattooed on someone’s chest-it was hers. She is the full-time, stay home mother of four beautiful little people under six! She plants things that she actually cooks (!) and does yard work, hikes, and camps. She is dedicated to the lives of her children, but recognizes that she is a woman outside of being a mom. My sister is full of creative energy and intellectual conversation and she is the absolute life of the party.

The other has taken the professional track, finishing undergrad and graduate school and moving up the corporate ladder at her job. She is a member of a sorority and is a dancer (in a troop not a club). She is a huge supporter of the arts and enjoys frequent cultural travels. She is four months shy of her first anniversary and her only child walks on all fours and is of the canine persuasion. She has a plethora of food allergies and her husband teases that she should have come with a manual.

I fall somewhere between my sisters. I am juggling familial and professional careers. I am creative, a self-prescribed intellectual and often called on to start a party. I am currently in graduate school and I love all things artistically stimulating. I also am the owner of a Schnoodle (same breed as Grady, my neph-dog). With one sister I share a mother; with the other I share a father. We all share the inability to shop for brassieres in cutesy stores for the less blessed like Victoria’s Secret.

It’s been three years and while my relationship with my sisters isn’t strange (as in the Braxtons), they aren’t strong (as in the Mowrys) either. We’re working on building them and I’m working on my understanding of all their intricacies. If Birdie Lee fights through life and strife as a young, teenage woman to find her sister and chooses to live with her, surely the bond is worth building.

Just before posting, I had a thought…I wonder if you made any racial recognition to my sisters as they were described.  I realized I didn’t give any identification to them and I guess that is because the definitions could apply to either of them as easily as neither of them and quite honestly it doesn’t matter if the mom is black or the professional is white. What did you think?