Banter on Tulips and a Tribe Called Quest, Jay-Z and John Coltrane, Outkast and Othello.


Culture Conundrum

(soundtrack: "Afro Blue", John Coltrane / "Exodus", Eddie Harris)

For nearly four months, my roommate and I have co-existed like Edward Hicks' classic American oil painting, "The Peaceable Kingdom." You know, the one where the lion kicks it with the lamb and the other creation of the earth in a magical scene? No lamb chops or wool sweaters for the lion. Just peace. Well, anyway living here in this slice of New York City has been something like that. Sort of refreshing, in fact. We've gotten along well. I put up with her cat. She, an Italian American, tries in her own special way, to understand how natural-hair-me can go from past-her-shoulders bone straight (press and curl, I explain) one week to curly 'fro (add water = instant negro, I offer) the next. We talk politics. Music even (we're both big O'Jays fans.) We don't get in each other's way. And we both chose careers sort of off the beaten path (me as a writer, she as a Ph.D. candidate who speaks and reads Latin fluently). All in all, it's been great. Something like the Niagara Convention must have been like in 1910 when W.E.B. Du Bois was surrounded by the great white folks (totally serious about this statement) who helped him start the N.A.A.C.P. We're different in color but similar in motivation and ethos. Anyway, even with all of this, the skeptic in me knew that something had to eventually give. One day, someday...

Yep. No day like the present.

I got home from a fabulous N'Awlins style dinner with some of my writer friends around 9:30 p.m. Talked on the phone with my momma for a while about the impending wedding of a cousin in June and assorted colorful family tales. Settled down to listen to a few notes from the genius from Hamlet, North Carolina (John Coltrane for the agnostics out there). Was feeling like just being. That was until my roommate stumbled into my room drunk at 11:30 p.m. (*Ding* First clue that this wasn't going to be a good night.)

roommate -- "Oh [Mahogany], I thought you were going home for the weekend."
me -- *blank look* (Momma still on the phone)
roommate -- "I just thought I'd have a few friends over. For a party. Now."
me -- "Oh?" (looking out into the living room at what looks like the entire Classics department at a school that shall remain nameless). "A few?"
roommate -- repeating "I thought you were going home."
me -- "Uh ... please ... shut my door."

At that very moment I felt like I, the only black girl of about 12 people in the apartment, was caught in some sort of out take from Chapelle's "When Keeping it Real Goes Wrong." I was no longer the happy-go-smiley Mahogany of springtime lore (see "Happy People"). No. I was now stuck in a vortex that morphed me into "non-smiling/ violating her parole/ wears curlers and houseshoes to the grocery store" Aquanetta. Suddenly, I knew not which path to take. Should I bust up in there and pull a Ron Artest, jumping into the crowd, my pink cardigan flapping in the wind, my arms flailing? Should I pull my roommate aside and explain in the best "non offensive negro" voice I could muster why this was not exactly acceptable? Or, should I draw some inspiration from J.C. and chill out a sec? I'm guessing you know which one I chose. Sigh.

And now that 15 minutes have passed since I started typing, listening to "Afro Blue" three times over has mellowed me out a little. So has playing it at a volume loud enough for me to summon both the Zulu ancestors and the seen-everything-before pigeons who chill on the roof across the way... A few more minutes go by and I have now come to a truce with my passive aggresive other self. Eventually, I'll have to talk with her about this. And I'll need to find away to get my point across with the clarity of theatre, but without the pathos of chitlin' circuit church plays (i.e: "Madea's [add anything here]", "Arms Too Short to Box with God", "Momma Done Burnt Da Chicken", etc.). And, without reinforcing the stereotypes her left-leaning friends still have about the more melanin endowed who walk the earth. It's times like these that I long for the wisdom of W.E.B. and his contemporaries. The brilliant man talked about the two masks that African Americans wear, that of our public/mainstream selves and our real ones. Yeah, I wish he was still around.

He might have advised me on which one to pick up for my performance.


At April 09, 2005 9:41 AM , Blogger Berry said...

I love your choice of words and actions. Yes, explain to "Cindy" that you felt violated and she could have called first (HELLO!) in case she wasn't sure you actually "went home this weekend." And if the idea every crosses her mind again that is what she is to do. End of story. I would say do the same thing to her and bring up a house full of negroes but she might actually LIKE that. LOL!

At April 09, 2005 10:28 PM , Blogger wannabe_ceo said...

downloading afro blue right now. it better be good! jus kiddin. nice blog

At April 11, 2005 1:44 PM , Blogger Mahogany Elle said...

- Berry: Cracking up about "Cindy" suggestion. A house full of negroes is a good idea LOL :)
- Wannabe_ceo: "Afro Blue" takes a few listens to get used to and there's a little craziness in the middle, but it's a gem. I checked out your blog too. Nice work! :)

At April 20, 2005 2:32 PM , Blogger Zantiferous3 said...

Love your blog... love this entry. Girl... please... I've been fighting my inner "Aquanetta"'s emergence at this damn OFFICE so I feeel what you are goign through. Though my choice of coaxing-off-the-ledge-music runs more like Marvin Gaye, the Isleys, EWF, The Main Ingredient, The Average White Band, Hall & Oates... just old school R&B. *sigh... looking at boss with squinted eyes and pulling out CD*


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