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.

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.

From Sag to Swag

This post is in response to the N&O article “Shaw students mentor middle schoolers in dress, manners” published on February 10th and is dedicated to the current and future alumni of the first Southern HBCU.

Jayden looked at the News and Observer article naming the young men on the photo. With each introduction, his smile widened with seeing his friends on the cover of the newspaper. He is not a member of Gentlemen of Excellence but as the grandson to a staff member, he receives an education in the importance of college every day. Jayden fully understands the necessity of hard work, good grades and excellent behavior as a map to higher education.

Just prior to Jayden’s arrival, Christopher Chunn, a Resident Advisor in Fleming Kee Residence Hall stopped by to tell me all about the GOE and the evening’s ceremonial festivities. He radiated as he explained how the young men in the program had made a difference in his life as much as he in theirs. As he speaks, I think about the mentors in my own son’s lives and I wonder if any are as authentically concerned with their success as Christopher is with his mentees.

With so much negative publicity surrounding African American males, it is refreshing to read a story of inspiration and dedication. It is especially so, when the editorial graces the front page of a publication. Gentlemen of Distinction (GOD) affords young men from underprivileged families and communities the opportunity to participate in a rite of passage program that instructs on everything from chivalry to filling out an application. Rooted in the spiritual development of themselves and the young men they influence, the approximately thirty members of GOD encourage each other weekly and maintain a strong sense of camaraderie. Everton Harris, President of GOD, says that putting Brother before each members name shows a sense of respect and creates unity within the group. 

Programs such as these are not unknown to Shaw University. Building African American Males (BAAM), under the leadership of Carlton Goode, former Shaw University Student Activities Director provides monthly instruction and advising from Shaw University alumni in various disciplines of life. From etiquette skills to post-graduate options, the men in BAAM use their experiences as Shaw students and professionals to give back to their alma mater. Christopher Young, local lawyer and 1999 graduate is excited about returning to his higher educational roots to encourage students to take pride in themselves and full advantage of every opportunity afforded them.

The Shaw Communiversity applauds these men, students of the present and past with a standing ovation.

Now the challenge is on…where my girls at?

Laugh Out Loud-Literally

It was one of those ho-hum kind of days when everything moved in extra slow motion. I was working in one of those offices where there were designated periods of work. While a college admissions office maintains a steady flow of paper traffic, free online app week at cfnc.org and deadline dates provide hours of monotonous data entry. Let me not dismiss the inevitable I-didn’t-get-into-the-school-I -wanted and my-mama-said-I-gotta-get-out-of-her-house periods that provide additional piles of paper on my desk, the chair in front of my desk, the leave a note box on my door and the window sill.

It was during one of these eras of unorganized chaos that the day was interrupted by what sounded like a herd of thunderous wildebeests stampeding in unison outside my window. It was in fact the tumbling spiral of the locksmith who failed to respect the power of the ice on the metal stairs. Her epic descent left her sitting on the final step in disbelief, pain and embarrassment. As she rose and steadied her wobble feet she looked around like we all do, confirming that there were no witness to her plunge.

Behind the bars, the glass, the window plants, my co-worker and I muffled our outbursts and fought back tears as she limped back to her van and drove off, undoubtedly for some pain reliever and a heating pad. I hate to admit that I too have moments of schadenfreude (if you did not click for definition you are either very smart or fake reading). At that moment, one thing could be confirmed-no one was being admitted for the rest of the day.

On our return from lunch where we choked on tacos and refried beans over a four-dollar plate at our favorite little Mexican spot, we found that the van had returned to the scene of the dive. I clasped my chest as my colleague reenacted the plunge in that indiscreet tone that has often forced us to remind her that she is missing a whisper button on her vocal remote.

Upon rounding the brick wall that contained our offices, there stood the locksmith at 6 feet 2 inches and about 250 pounds with her hands on both hips and a gaze that would have sent a lion running like a gazelle.

“Is ya’ll laughing at me?”

I dedicate this post to PD and her deer-in-the-headlight-glance that makes me look twice before ever talking about someone who may be just around the corner and to the locksmith who did not punch PD in the mouth after I walked off and left her holding the bag!

The Mechanism Behind Fetishism

Fetishes come in various forms. There is the lawyer who has a fetish for success and infinite possibilities achieved. There is the mom who has a fetish for discipline because of her desire to rear responsible and well-mannered children. There is the fashionista who has a fetish for healthy living through exercise and diet. There is the graduate student who has a fetish for finding romance at the turn of every corner. Each of these represents a longing within them that demands complete devotion to their fixation and each fixation has a spell of sorts on their desires. The lawyer may be driven by a fear of failure. The mom may be driven by the fear of her own mistakes. The fashionista may be driven by the fear of obesity. The student may be driven by the fear of loneliness. Behind each of these fetishes lies a fear through which our obsessions are manifested. I admire these four souls who have found drive to diminish the power of their fear and release its hold on them.

Twenty minutes into trying to figure out my own fetish, I decided to reverse the theory and look at my fears. The process worked. I fear not having a voice, being silenced, losing the ability to articulate my thoughts. My fetish is writing. I am continuously in composition from journal entries that reveal my deepest secrets to manuals for standard operations of procedures. It matters to me not what I have authored but that I simply have. It is through transcription that I reveal who I am and acknowledge that I am present and relative. You have encouraged this voice merely by reading this blog.

Typically, when we think of fetishes we picture sexual fetishism where sexual connotation is given to asexual entities. The most commonly recognized of these is the foot fetish. In walks Peter. Literally. I was sitting at my desk with my feet propped on the foot rest when he walked in without a word and removed my shoe before I could say “hold on” to whoever had me engaged in conversation. I ran him off and forbid him to return after a few coarse words. On another occasion, Peter returned to the scene of his initial violation; however this time he satisfied his pleasures via web images in the computer lab. And again, Peter returned, but to his enjoyment he was able to con the freshman coed to remove her shoe and achieve ultimate gratification.

Horror flashed across her face and then embarrassment as we laughed at her naivety in helping Peter show her where his ankle hurt. When I explained his fetish and that showing him her foot was equal to showing a typical teenage male her boobs, she was in disbelief. I imagine that she spent all evening on google trying to learn more about the concept that had not held space in her budding mind prior to this moment. I wondered when I first learned about such crazes and other more sinister perversions. Surely my inexperience decreased as my fears increased, until my own fetish captured my interests and seduced my hands with pen and paper.

I wonder what fear guided Peter to his fetish, or if an experience shaped his amusement. I will probably never know but in preparation, I am adopting a shoe fetish.

Happy Holidays?

The holidays are upon us.

Times such as these create a recipe for disaster. Start with a little loneliness, exacerbated by divorce, death of a loved one or single status. Mix in a bit of anxiety over unwanted visitors such as mothers who insist you need to settle down, fathers who question your career path and others who oppose your lifestyle. Add a dash of stress over a less than ideal financial position that requires a lot of creativity in purchasing gifts (in comes relief that you are single and without kids). Top it all off with insecurities over the weight you’ve kept on (and added to) all year long but resolved to get rid of January 1, 2010 and signs of aging that send you into a scene from The Sweetest Thing. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes (because that’s what most recipes call for) and voila!

But wait…

When you’re a college student who has nowhere to go when the residence halls close for the holidays because your drug-addicted father is missing in action and your mother has abused you since before you could walk (verbally and physically), the depression is exacerbated. Mix in an overload of courses, final exams and ten-page papers where your grades are suffering to say the least because said parents aren’t offering any monetary support so you’ve taken on a full time job to pay off tuition debts and send a little home to your Nana who is rearing your four younger siblings. Add a dash of dating the wrong men who are really boys or women who are really hoes (excuse the offense) and the STI’s they gave you as an early Christmas present followed up with a host of threatening emails, tweets and wall messages. Oh and don’t forget to top it all off with just a hint of photo harassment when your pics are multi-media-messaged across campus. Bake at hell for what feels like infinity.

Happy Holidays!