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.

 

 

 

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.

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.

Plum Crazy at Plum Crazy

I have a very dear friend who turned 50 this week. I will pause for the round of applause you are sure to give; or the sigh, depending on your own chronological status. On my way to his “Big Fat Greek 5oth Birthday Party” I decided to stop for a card. But not just any card, a man of such culture, such flavor, such colorful character needed a card from the African-American collection.

I went to Walmart in the heart of Southeast Raleigh. I often refer to this particular Wally World as Plum Crazy in homage to the deceased club because on any given visit you may see two to three patrons of the former establishment (only now they appear to be responsible adults with kids in tow, sober and well robed-present company included). This specific location sits on New Bern Avenue, which I’ve previously noted for having four fried chicken joints and runs parallel to Martin Luther King Junior Boulevard. Surely I can get my brother from another mother a card from the Black experience here!

Words cannot even express my disappointment with what I found. Actually, words probably can, but I’m not privy to what that word is right now.

18. Eighteen. Diez y ocho. Do you understand me? There were 18 cards in the ‘Ebony’ section. 18. And four had no mention of being ebony, no picture of an ebony man or woman, no African insignia, no nothing! And yeah….I meant that damn double negative. EIGHTEEN!

I was stunned, mesmerized,  as I began counting the other, mainstream cards in the Walmart that sits on New Bern Avenue, parallel to MLK Jr. Blvd.,  in Southeast Raleigh. I stopped at seventy-nine. I watched sister after sister pick up a card for her husband or father in honor of Father’s Day, jaw dropped.

Furthermore, there was no availability for the Spanish-speaking community who also populate this community. Where are their cards? Can they get a card that doesn’t have a white man on the front? Can their little girls give their daddies a card where the model looks like him?

I searched for the manager, knowing I was already late for Ken’s birthday party but too militant to let this moment pass and after minutes of no luck I decided to mention my frustration to the sales girl at the check out.

“Really, you should tell somebody.”

“I’m telling you.”

“I ain’t nobody. You should call Walmart.”

“We’re in Walmart.”

“Naw, like the real Walmart.”

“Where exactly is the real Walmart?”

I went on with her for a few minutes, half amused, half ashamed, completely annoyed but our banter calmed my demeanor and allowed me to move on. I took my card, which ended up reading like we were lovers more than friends and my duct tape, because every man over 50 needs duct tape in excess and made my way to the comfort of friends who feel like family and understand the need of African-American cards in the Walmart on New Bern Avenue in 27610, even if they may never need to buy one.

And when I’m done writing this post…I’m gonna write the real Walmart a letter about the fake one!

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?

What The Cotton Pickin’ Hell?

Today I awoke to the anticipating scream “It’s field trip day!” The hot cup of tea, a peace-offering for waking me up on my day of hookie and a token of appreciation for agreeing to chaperone his adventure, kept me from sending the offspring back to sleep. Verbally, of course; I do not resort to physical punishment for such trivial things. Now, had he spilled the hot tea on me…I woulda straight…

I digress.

I arrived at Historic Oakview (listed on the National Register of Historic Places) significantly early and took the time to catch up on some non-required reading. By the time the bus arrived I was oblivious to where we were and what the next few hours would entail. As soon as the fourth graders filed into single file line and marched up the hill, past the goats and horse stable, I was sure what we were in store for.

The first presenter went on for about thirty minutes about life on the farm around 1825. “This is the first building ever built on the land.” We stood in the ancient kitchen and the students made butter from cream, learned about fetching water and practiced doing laundry on a washboard. I remembered my grandmother using a washboard long after the introduction of the washing machine.

I pulled the young woman aside at the end of her message as the students sniffed through the herb garden and politely asked her a few questions about her work on the farm. Then I got to the point. Why isn’t this referred to as a plantation? She replied that plantations needed to have at least twenty slaves and 1000 acres, they only had 900 acres.

If sleeping with 100 men made me a ho, but I only slept with 90, what would I be?

“So you did have slaves?”

“Yes, but just ten.” Before I could reply, I caught the eye of my dependent and decided to drop it. He had already given me a lecture on approved behavior in the presence of his friends.

The second presenter was given the daunting task of delivering a message on cotton picking on the farm around 1860. She gave me an awkwardly forced smile as I entered the gin house and I wondered if the presenters had walkie-talkied each other like Joe Clark in Lean On Me (code black in the orange shirt, I repeat, code black in the orange shirt). “Who wants to be a cotton picker?” My soul shivered at hearing this question and the way the words sounded coming from her mouth. Of the twenty-five students, all minority, one elected not to be a cotton pickin’ cotton picker.

One.

“First I have to tell you about the five B’s to picking cotton.” Back-your back is going to hurt from all the bending. Bugs-mosquitoes, wasps, hornets, beetles, worms, spiders…there are all kinds of bugs in the fields. Burn-it is awfully hot and you are going to get sunburned because you have to spend long hours in the fields. Blood-there are thorns and seeds and hulls that cut your fingers and cause them to bleed and blister. Boring-it is so monotonous doing the same thing over and over again, day in and day out. “So who still wants to pick some cotton for me?”

Am I missing something here? Can I add a few B words to this lecture?

Beat-you are subjected to beatings if you do not comply with your work. Broke-this is not a paid position; you are not applying to be a farm hand but a slave. Bondage-need I say more. Black-look around at the pictures of the people picking the cotton and tell me what they all have in common.

When I tucked Cameron in bed tonight, I asked why he didn’t raise his hand to be a cotton picker.

“Didn’t Lincoln abolish slavery?”

“Yes, but you don’t have to be a slave to pick cotton. You can do whatever you want.”

“Exactly. And I do not want to pick cotton.”

“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