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.

Carpool, Competency Exams and Other Morning Rants

If we are not engaged in a steamy, love affair that commits us to passionate sessions of inexplicable pleasure to which one must follow-up with, the morning after, a text that reads quite simply ‘Damn’-don’t call me prior to 9am. In fact, nor should you text me, email me, tweet me, facebook me or utilize any other source of communication. What do you possibly need to say outside of casual operating hours (9am-9pm). Of course if I started social networking at 7am, by all means, join me; but when I’m rushing to accomplish the morning chores after oversleeping, the last thing I want is an interrupting text.

If by chance I owe the company with which you are gainfully employed money and by luck of the draw my number flashes across your computer screen in the moment that I am lathering, lubricating or having breakfast with my children-understand that I will not be cooperative. You will receive me in all my sarcastic glory; it’s nothing against you, I’m just irritated and late and you are unintentionally getting on my nerves. FYI, we sit down as a family to have dinner; give me your cell number and I will call you back at a time that is most inconvenient for you. Oh and you called me-don’t put me on hold or ask me for my personal information!

Back to morning…

If you have found yourself utilizing my school transportation service, please be ready on time. I shouldn’t have to beep the horn more than once and wake up those who are fortunate enough to sleep in, especially when you know exactly what time this chariot pulls out. Oh, I’m not out there on time you say? Sit on the porch and enjoy the morning dew or engage in a morning meditation. By the way, your kid can fasten his own seatbelt and we don’t need to have a full-blown conversation as if I am not in a hurry to drop off these ‘chillins.  

Alas, we have arrived.

There should be a carpool competency exam. Seriously. How hard is it to pull up to the curb and then pull off? Very, for some. Typically, there are about three people waiting to open car doors and release children parents into seven hours of freedom. On the rare occasion that only one, lonesome school employee is present, parents freak out! What the what? Pull up to the curb and make your kid open his own damn door. You can’t possible expect the poor music teacher to open every door that pulls up, or maybe you do-this we would know if there was a competency exam!

The carpool line is not the time to ask your child’s teacher a question about their behavior, performance or the like. I have sat many mornings, witness to a parent-teacher conference with twenty cars in my rear. Come on people, that’s what email addresses and scheduled appointments are for. If I were a teacher, I would live in the principal’s office because I would be going off on crazy parents all day long! Which brings me to another idea, you should have to take a competency exam before you get your ovaries. When a girl is born, they should come in a box attached to the placenta and the hospital should lock them away until she can prove her ability to birth, nurture and rear a child. Save the drama over ‘what about the boys’, this is my tirade and I will rant how I choose.

Once your child has been ejected from your vehicle and your door closed, PULL OFF! Why the heck are you watching Susie walk into the building? It’s May! The school year is almost over, if Susie doesn’t know how to walk in by herself by now-you both need a competency exam. If for some strange reason you need to watch her walk in, be considerate of those who don’t care about whether their kid skips school or not and park your car.

I could go on and on with more morning rants but after carpool, I head to work and seeing as how I enjoy the spoils of my labor and have no secondary means of supporting myself and my sons, I better stop here.

Here’s to competency exams (raises coffee mug) and school buses.

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.”

To The Class of 2021

This is what I would want to share with the matriculating bears when the current students of Shaw University have graduated and/or moved on to other experiences and the events of what happened the week before Easter weekend in 2011 are nearly forgotten.

To The Class of 2021,

Just around the time you were enjoying the spoils of sixth grade spring break, former students were counting on two more weeks and a final exam to give them that extra umph. While you were lying your way through social networking activation sites, students before you were trying to find the truth through the chaos of half-truths and retweeted rumors. As you were wishing your parents would just leave you alone, students who carried the keys in your pockets were just wishing for a way home.

I can’t begin to describe what Shaw University was like before the storm.  Before the tornado came and ripped trees from roots, the tree that stood as guard over Henry Martin and Sarah Tupper. I don’t know how to articulate the spirit of Shaw, like many HBCU’s on ‘fried chicken Wednesday’ or ‘fried fish Friday’ when the lunch line spills out into the yard. The yard that is glass and debris ridden, outside of the café that served boxed lunches today. ‘Cold cut Wednesday’ just doesn’t have the same ring.

The rhythm of this institutional body moves to a beat that courses through the anatomy of other HBCU’s and like veins from one heart we dance to music that is felt and not heard. We sing to beats that are innate not synthetic and when it is time to sing together, our harmonies ring as one.

Yet, we are not just a historically black university; we are a world of academia. Often, that label diminishes ones capacity next to our predominately white institutional counterparts. Shaw is an association of scholarship. The essence of this first-rate, first built, first choice institution of higher education is inhaled in the air between its buildings on a crisp fall morning, its spoken in the language between student and advisor over plans after graduation, its understood in the movement of a young man who removes his hat and pulls up his pants in one motion as if rehearsed for eighteen years before.

This is not the most devastating event to happen on the campus of Shaw University; thankfully, all lives were spared but this was the most devastating to happen to the campus.

I am looking for the lessons to be learned from what took place on Saturday, April 16th, 2011, the tenth birthday of my oldest son. The tornado changed Shaw University. Students began to respect the opportunity of life more. One young man said to me on that Sunday morning “I would give anything to just have no AC again.” Staff began to show genuine compassion for one another. A staff member said a few days after the storm “I never even thought to ask if one of our own had losses.” Faculty began to understand that student affairs and academic affairs were a successful marriage not a dysfunctional family. A professor stated during a walk across the bridge after discussing a particular student “I can’t believe I never knew she was dealing with all of that and I’ve been her advisor for three years.”

To be honest, I was questioning my place at Shaw University. I was starting to wonder if my talents would be better fitted elsewhere. I was asking for answers and I believe now more than ever that they were answered that day. Somewhere in the tears of scared students with no way home and frightened parents thousands of miles away, I found may way home…right where I was.

So take a deep breath and inhale the past. Learn from it. This is not the new Shaw University. This is the same Shaw there always was. This is the same Shaw there always will be. The spirit has always been here, it just needed to remind the students of 2011 who they were and who they were meant to be.

Don’t you forget it, or else…

Why I May Never Be Invited To Another Baby Shower

Year round school is a dream come true for a single parent such as myself.

While everyone is writing parenting advice on cardstock decorated with foil embossed booties, everyone tells you the surface stuff. Read with sweet, innocent voice: “Get plenty of rest.” “Let your husband do the housework.” “Take people up on their offer to help.”

Screw that. What we should have been writing on those cards was the true stuff. The stuff no one tells you when you’re glowing, happy, filled with maternal joy and cake for four. Read with hard, militant, voice while using hand expressions: “It is scary as hell the first time you take a crap and yeah you may have to assist your body in the process. Don’t ask-instinct will take over.” “Your nipples will crack and bleed during feeding and those objects of sexual stimulation will be reduced to objects of nutritional satisfaction. There ain’t nothing sexy about smelling like spoiled contaminated milk.” “After the baby comes out you will spin the rest of your life wishing that crying, little brat would crawl back in there and give you a moment of peace.”

Peace. Ahhhhh. Do you know what peace sounds like? It sounds like three weeks of track out while the offspring spring off to the home of the noncustodial parent, at least that’s what it sounds like to the divorcee whose kids attend year round school. It sounds like a book being read without interruption. It sounds like being called ‘Shannon’ instead of ‘Mommy’. Do you know what it looks like? It looks like a clean house. Every shoe is in place, there are no toys in sight, and the one little pile of laundry that has accumulated sits patiently waiting for nothing at all. Do you know what it smells like? It smells like take out from exotic restaurants that don’t list chicken fingers and kids menus are comical. It smells like girly soaps, undiluted by too much cologne in an attempt to hide the signs of prepubescence.

Before year round school I often wished they would crawl back into the womb and give me a moment, a single glimpse of my pre-maternal self.

But Joanie Mitchell said it best. I had an undeniable craving for chicken nuggets today, from Chick-fil-a especially, on kid’s night. In the drive thru, I sat watching kids run wildly, laughing, barefoot. They were taunting the costumed cow and I can only imagine his thoughts inside the fortress that protected their sacred ears from his secular mumbles. My womb ached for my own little torturers watching them. My stomach was playing tricks on me.

There are only three days left in my kidcation and between you and me (assuming they are having too much fun to read my blog tonight), it’s a little too peaceful around here. I keep hearing things in the middle of the night. The sterile environment is freaking me out! And four-day old sushi stinks! If nothing else, they better get home and take out this trash. That’s another thing we should be writing on those cards “If it’s a boy, by the time he’s 8, you’ll never have to take out the trash again. Just remember to bag it up in your bathroom during that time of the month.” Besides, they both crushed my sciatic nerve when I was carrying them, I can only imagine the damage they would do now.

I should probably look into a traditional calendar.

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?